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HIV and AIDS: no laughing matter

New York is the state with the most adults infected with HIV in the United States. California is the third most-populated state. So what state is second?

“Florida is the second most populated state with HIV-infected adults and No. 1 in pediatric cases,” said Jodi Nettleton, a graduate teaching assistant at USF who has researched HIV and AIDS for more than five years.

In addition, AIDS is the leading cause of death for young black women in the state, Nettleton said, with young women the fastest growing group being infected. The Florida Department of Health has reported that from 1985 until 2002, the percentage of infected women in the United States jumped from 7 percent to 26 percent. The virus has become the third-leading cause of death in women ages 25-44.

According to, HIV — the human immunodeficiency virus — is a virus that invades the immune system and later causes AIDS, or acquired immune deficiency syndrome. Over time, AIDS slowly breaks down the immune system, which makes it more difficult for the system to fight off other infections.

HIV/AIDS can be spread through blood exchanges of any type, including shared needles, anal sex and vaginal sex, Nettleton said. The virus can also be transmitted through oral sex if there is an open wound in the mouth. Also, Nettleton said pre-ejaculatory fluid contains more of the virus than the actual ejaculate because it has more white-blood cells, which carry the virus.

While unprotected sex is already a risk, Nettleton explains that people can be at a higher risk if they have another STD.

“Additional STDs increase the risk by exposing the body to the virus. Meaning if the person has herpes, they are a higher risk due to the exposure,” Nettleton said.

While abstinence is the best prevention, for those who are sexually active, condoms are the most effective prevention, Nettleton said. However, latex and polyurethane condoms are recommended because natural-skinned condoms are prone to breakage. When using a lubricant, stick to the water-based ones since oil-based lubricants can also cause breakage.

Nettleton also warns about the danger of using spermicides.

“It irritates the vagina and can increase the risk of infection,” she said.

As of now, HIV/AIDS is incurable. While drugs are available to prevent the virus from entering cells, or the reproduction of the virus while in the cell, the virus can find ways around treatments. New medicines are constantly being developed to keep up with the virus.

“It mutates so fast, it is impossible to fight it,” Nettleton said.

The Tampa Bay AIDS Network offers anonymous testing. Tests are done orally with a swab, which is as effective as a blood test, according to Nettleton. The tests are free; however, donations are accepted. Results are available two weeks after the test. For locations and testing times, call (813) 983-3333.