Santa Clara University

Wellness Center

HIV and HIV Transmission

What Is HIV?

HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is the virus that causes AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). The HIV virus attacks and weakens the immune system of the infected person causing the body to lose its ability to fight disease and infection.

A person can be infected with HIV for many years before symptoms present themselves. One can feel healthy and look healthy for years (and continue to spread the HIV virus) before becoming sick.

How Is HIV Spread?

First, let us review how HIV is NOT CONTRACTED:

  • Sneezing Holding Hands
  • Breathing Shaking Hands
  • Coughing Casual Contact
  • Hugging Insect bites
  • Dry kissing

HIV can be transmitted the following ways:

  • Having unprotected sex with an infected person. HIV can be transmitted through blood, semen and vaginal fluids. High-risk sexual behavior includes vaginal and anal intercourse; oral intercourse is also considered risky sexual behavior.
  • Sharing needles with an infected person. Using an intravenous needle of someone infected with HIV can transfer the virus into the user's bloodstream.
  • Mother to infant transfer. A mother who is infected with the HIV virus can pass the virus to the fetus through the placenta (and later through breast-feeding).
  • Blood Transfusions. Though no longer the threat they once presented, contaminated blood products can be a possible mode of HIV transmission. Blood-screening programs initiated in 1985 have significantly reduced the transfer of HIV through tainted blood.

How Can You Prevent Contracting HIV?

  • Abstinence is the best and only way to ensure that you do not contract HIV. However, should you decide to engage in sexual behavior, there are ways to protect you and your partner:
  • Know your partner and maintain a mutually monogamous relationship.
  • Use a new latex condom every time you have sex (vaginal, oral or anal).
  • Use a water-based lubricant (K-Y Jelly, Astroglide). Vaseline and other oil-based lubricants will destroy the condom.
  • Use latex condoms with Nonoxynol-9 (a spermicide) to provide extra protection.
  • When engaging in oral sex, use a new latex condom or dental dam every time.

What Are the Symptoms of HIV?

Symptoms of HIV infection can and will vary from person to person. Many people in the early stages of HIV are asymptomatic-they do not present any symptoms at all. As mentioned above, many people with HIV can go for years without being aware that they have contracted the disease. However, the following are some symptoms of HIV:

  • Increased, unexplained fatigue
  • High fever (over 100 degrees), chills, night sweats lasting more than several weeks
  • Unexplained weight loss-greater than 10 pounds in less than two months
  • Swollen glands lasting more than two weeks
  • Persistent dry cough
  • Diarrhea
  • Pink or purple flat blotches or bumps. Usually painless and look like bruises but they do not go away and are harder than the skin around them
  • White patches in the mouth or on the tongue

Getting Tested:

HIV testing can be done at the Cowell Health Center. You can also contact the Health Department (408) 299-5915 to make arrangements for an HIV test at their office.

Types of Testing:

Currently the two types of HIV testing done are anonymous testing and confidential testing. Anonymous testing is just that-instead of your name, you are assigned a number. Confidential testing is protected information but does include your name and is only accessible if you, the patient, give permission for its release. Make sure to inquire as to the testing policies at the facility you chose for your HIV testing.

Local Resources:

Online Resource:


  • What every student should know about HIV and AIDS (SHAB and Cowell Health Center)
  • HIV Prevention (ETR Associates)
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