Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)

What is HIV?

HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is the virus that leads to the immune destruction that makes people who are infected susceptible to developing AIDS if not diagnosed and treated early.

It is transmitted through sex (via body fluids such as cum, pre-cum, discharges, vaginal fluid), breast milk, blood products, sharing needles/ equipment/other paraphernalia.

Anal sex is the most risky type of sex to transmit/acquire HIV.

It is not passed on by normal daily activities such as kissing/touching/hugging, swimming, using public toilets, towels, cups etc.

It has been estimated that about 15% of people living with HIV in the UK are unaware they have it.

AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) is when a patient living with HIV has a very weak immune system and is at risk from opportunistic infections or certain cancers that would normally able to be controlled if their immune system worked well.

This four letter acronym was previously used before effective treatment for HIV was available. The term is largely obsolete now due to the remarkable strides made in treating HIV and is only really used by the media for sensationalising the condition or to perpetuate stigma.

What are the symptoms?

This depends on which condition the person living with HIV develops. Most commonly the body is weakened by pneumonias, so becoming short of breath, coughing, developing a fever and losing weight is most common way for a patient who has not been tested before to present to a doctor.

How is it diagnosed?

HIV is diagnosed with a simple blood test, even with a small fingerprick test.

AIDS hopefully isn’t a diagnosis that is made often as we are testing people early and treating HIV before people develop symptoms and get too unwell. We can prevent AIDS by testing and treating patients early.

What is the treatment?

HIV is treated with medication usually in tablet form taken everyday.

AIDS illnesses are more serious and depending on which illness it causes, the treatment is different and can involve longer courses of tablets or injections and staying in hospital. In very severe cases, patients die of AIDS. We do not want this to happen in this era of effective treatment where we can give patients a normal life expectancy - test, test, test.

Useful information

For more information visit the FPA website and Terrance Higgins Trust.