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Talking With Your Children About HIV and AIDS

While sex can be an embarrassing topic to broach with children, having "the talk" has never been more important. Sex has consequences that can be more dire than pregnancy -- namely HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. And it's important even for kids to know the facts about HIV.

Despite significant advances in medical treatment for HIV, there are no cures and no vaccines that can prevent the disease.

The CDC estimates that about 48,298 people in the U.S. were newly infected with HIV in 2010 -- the most recent year that data is available. In 2009, the CDC estimated that 476,732  people were living with AIDS in the U.S.

HIV/AIDS Talking Points

1.       Do your homework before talking to kids about HIV.

Know the basic facts about HIV/AIDS:

•         Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is the virus that causes acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS).

•         HIV is transmitted from person to person through contact with blood, semen, vaginal fluid, or breast milk.

•         HIV can be prevented by using latex condoms during sex, not sharing needles, and avoiding contact with another person's body fluids.

The risk of HIV is increased by:

  • An increased number of sexual partners
  • IV drug use
  • Anal intercourse
  • Any sex without condoms
  • Use of alcohol or other drugs that tend to loosen inhibitions and make people less likely to use condoms
  • Tattoos and body piercing with contaminated needles or instruments

2.  Broach the subject of HIV with your kids.

Don't let embarrassment stop you. Take your cue from a commercial about AIDS that pops up as you're watching TV with your kids. Ask them if they have heard about the disease, and what they think they know about it. Research shows that as many as 93% of children have already heard about the illness by the time they reach third grade.

3. Know your audience.

It's important to provide age-appropriate information. To an 8-year-old, you might say, "AIDS is a disease that makes people very sick. It's caused by a virus, called HIV, which is a tiny germ." An older child can absorb more detailed information. Preteens should be armed with information about how condoms can prevent transmission of HIV.

4. What to tell your kids about HIV

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry tells parents to let children know that:

  • AIDS is most often fatal.
  • Anyone can get AIDS. Kids and HIV may not seem like a problem, but many teens have been infected.
  • Condoms can reduce the risk of getting AIDS.
  • You can get AIDS from use of even one contaminated needle or one sexual act with a partner who has HIV/AIDS.  

You may also want to dispel some of these myths about HIV:

  • HIV is spread by insects. There is absolutely no evidence to support this idea.
  • You can get HIV from toilet seats. This is untrue. None of the sexually transmitted infections are known to infect people via toilets.
  • Oral sex is completely safe sex. Many youths believe this, but oral sex -- especially oral-penile sex or oral anal contact -- might transmit the infection, as well as some other sexually transmitted infections.
  • If a person with HIV has a small cut or simple nosebleed, this can spread infection. Though care should be used in stopping bleeding, it's extremely unlikely that simple venous bleeding will spread HIV. Using any detergent, even drying in air, will kill this fastidious virus.

 

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Roy Benaroch, MD on May 25, 2012

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