HIV Facts

HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. In simple terms, HIV is a virus that attacks the immune system. There’s a lot of misunderstanding about HIV and how it is transmitted, so it’s a good idea to educate yourself with the facts.

  • Fact One: HIV can only be passed on in a small number of ways. These include unprotected vaginal and anal sex, sharing needles, breastfeeding and/or direct blood to blood contact with a person who is living with HIV.
  • Fact Two: You can’t get HIV from kissing, hugging, sharing cups, utensils or food. Bodily fluids such as sweat, urine and saliva do not transmit HIV.
  • Fact Three: Anal sex is top of the scale when it comes to risk around the sexual transmission of HIV. This is simply because the tissue in the anus is more prone to picking up HIV than the vagina. The risk of transmission is slightly higher for the person who is receiving. Unprotected vaginal sex also puts you at risk of HIV.
  • Fact Four: Oral sex carries a low risk of HIV transmission as saliva provides a natural barrier against the virus. There is, however, a very low risk of transmission during oral sex if an open and bleeding sore comes into contact with semen containing a high load of HIV. You can’t get HIV from kissing someone, masturbating together or a hand job.
  • Fact Five: The extent to which someone is infectious depends on their viral load. If someone has an ‘undetectable’ viral load then they are not able to pass HIV onto you through sex.

How do I know if I have HIV?

It’s hard to know for sure. You can feel fine and still have HIV. In some cases people can have HIV for years and not know it. That is why testing for HIV is so important if you think you might be at risk.

Even though you may not experience symptoms the virus will still be damaging your immune system. While it might take a long time for the virus to make you really sick, it’s highly likely it will at some point. Without medication, most people who contract HIV have a significantly reduced life expectancy.

What are the symptoms of HIV?

When HIV first enters the blood stream many people experience flu like symptoms – this is referred to as ‘seroconversion illness’. Symptoms may include:

  • High temperature (fever)
  • Sore throat
  • Rash
  • Tiredness
  • Swollen glands
  • Joint and muscle pain

What is the difference between HIV and AIDS?

AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. It’s called a syndrome because there is no one thing that determines whether you have it or not. AIDS is a life threatening illness.

A person is diagnosed with AIDS if they have one or more ‘AIDS defining’ illnesses. There are over twenty such illness and they include candida, cervical cancer, herpes, lymphoma, recurrent bacterial infections and recurrent pneumonia.

These illnesses are also referred to as ‘opportunistic infections’ because they attack the body when its immune system has been weakened by the HIV virus.

HIV or Human Immunodeficiency Virus is a virus that attacks the immune system. The HIV virus attacks the body’s T-cells, which are the cells that help fight infection. If left untreated, HIV can lead to AIDS.

Is there a cure for HIV?

There is no cure for HIV, but there are medications that are highly effective at controlling it. If you are diagnosed with HIV it is vital to get treatment as soon as you can. Recent studies show starting treatment soon after diagnoses can reduce the risk of HIV related health complications by up to 50%.

Most people only take one or two pills a day – which is a simple treatment regime compared to many illnesses. While there are still side effects, these can usually be managed with support from an HIV specialist doctor.

If left untreated, HIV can progress to AIDS, which is a life threatening syndrome.