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What is HIV?

HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that damages the cells in your immune system and weakens your ability to fight everyday infections and disease.

AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) is the name used to describe a number of potentially life-threatening infections and illnesses that happen when your immune system has been severely damaged by the HIV virus.

While AIDS can't be transmitted from one person to another, the HIV virus can.

There's currently no cure for HIV, but there are very effective drug treatments that enable most people with the virus to live a long and healthy life.

With early diagnosis and effective treatments, most people with HIV won't develop any AIDS-related illnesses and will live a near-normal lifespan.

What happens if HIV is left undiagnosed?

Without treatment, the immune system will become severely damaged, and life-threatening illnesses such as cancer and severe infections can occur.

How is HIV spread?

HIV is found in the body fluids of an infected person. This includes semen, vaginal and anal fluids, blood, and breast milk.

It's a fragile virus and doesn't survive outside the body for long. HIV can't be transmitted through sweat, urine or saliva.

The most common way of getting HIV in the UK is through having anal or vaginal sex without a condom.

Other ways of getting HIV include:

  • sharing needles, syringes or other injecting equipment
  • transmission from mother to baby during pregnancy, birth or breastfeeding
  • The chance of getting HIV through oral sex is very low and will be dependent on many things, such as whether you receive or give oral sex and the oral hygiene of the person giving the oral sex.

What are the symptoms of HIV?

Most people experience a short, flu-like illness 2-6 weeks after HIV infection, which lasts for a week or two.

After these symptoms disappear, HIV may not cause any symptoms for many years, although the virus continues to damage your immune system. This means many people with HIV don't know they're infected.

Anyone who thinks they could have HIV should get tested. Certain groups of people are advised to have regular tests as they're at particularly high risk, including:

  • men who have sex with men
  • Black African Heterosexuals
  • people who share needles, syringes or other injecting equipment

How is HIV tested?

The only way to find out if you have HIV is to have an HIV test. This involves testing a sample of your blood or saliva for signs of the infection.

How is HIV treated?

While there's no cure for HIV, there are very effective treatments that enable most people with the virus to live a long and healthy life.

Antiretroviral medications are used to treat HIV. They work by stopping the virus replicating in the body, allowing the immune system to repair itself and preventing further damage.

These come in the form of tablets, which need to be taken every day.

HIV is able to develop resistance to a single HIV drug very easily, but taking a combination of different drugs makes this much less likely.

Most people with HIV take a combination of drugs – it's vital these are taken every day as recommended by your doctor.

The goal of HIV treatment is to have an undetectable viral load. This means the level of HIV virus in your body is low enough to not be detected by a test.

Is there a Statutory Notification for HIV?

HIV is a notifiable disease which means that doctors and laboratories are legally required to notify state and federal health departments about new cases. This information is treated confidentially and the statistics used for public health planning.

Source: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/hiv-and-aids/