HIV or Human Immunodeficiency Virus is a virus which weakens your body's ability to fight infections and disease. It does this by damaging the cells in your immune system.
HIV treatment is much more effective than it used to be, treatment is also more effective the earlier it starts. For this reason it is important for people who believe they may have been at risk of catching HIV to get tested sooner rather than later.
If HIV is left untreated it can progress into AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). AIDS can only develop in a person who is already infected with HIV, however not everyone who gets HIV develops AIDS.
HIV is spread from the body fluids of an infected person, these fluids include semen, blood, vaginal and anal fluids, and breast milk. HIV does not live very long outside of the body.
- Unprotected vaginal or anal sex
- Sharing sex toys
- Sharing syringes or needles
- Transmitted from mother to child during pregnancy
- From mother to baby during birth
- From mother to baby when breastfeeding
- From kissing
- From sweat
- From sharing food, or utensils
- From shaking hands or hugging
- From sneezing
- From spitting or biting
The most common way of catching HIV is through having sex without a condom, that includes vaginal or anal sex.
There is very little chance of getting HIV through oral sex. However some things make the chances of catching HIV via oral sex higher, such as whether you give or receieve oral sex, as well as the mouth hygiene of the person giving oral sex.
A person can have HIV for months or even years before health problems begin. In this period the HIV virus can still be passed on to other people.
Most people who become infected experience a short flu-like illness around 2-6 weeks after the initial infection, this usually lasts for around 2 weeks.
Flu-like symptoms can include:
- Night sweats
- Mouth ulcers
- Sore throat
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Muscle aches
Don’t assume you have HIV just because you have any of the above symptoms - all symptoms can be experienced due to other illnesses. But if you think you may have been infected by HIV, it is very important to get tested.
After these initial symptoms disappear a person can feel fine for months and even years, however during this time the virus is damaging the person’s immune system, and if left untreated HIV can develop into AIDS. AIDS is the late stage of HIV infection and can be fatal.
HIV is diagnosed through a blood test. Tests for HIV are carried out at a sexual health clinic and are free and completely confidential - meaning no one needs to know that you were tested if you don’t want them to.
If you believe yourself to have HIV, it is important that you also tell your partner or anyone who you have had sexual contact with in order that they can get tested.
We now have effective treatments that allow people with the infection to stay healthy and to lead normal lives.
The sooner after becoming infected that you get tested the better, so it is important to get tested if you believe you may have been at risk of catching the virus.
HIV is treated with various drugs that slow down the disease, they prevent the disease from developing as fast and therefore the person may feel healthy and well for many years. However you need to keep taking the drugs for the rest of your life
If you have sex without a condom or share needles you are at risk of catching the HIV infection. In order to avoid catching HIV there are a number of effective ways you can protect yourself.
- Use a condom when having sex
- If you use drugs, never share needles, or any injecting equipment including spoons, syringes and swabs