What is it?
HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. It is primarily transmitted in blood, semen and vaginal fluids via condomless sex or sharing injecting equipment.
HIV is the virus that can cause AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome).
How do you get it?
You can only get HIV from someone who has the virus — by certain bodily fluids containing enough HIV entering the blood stream. HIV is only present in blood, cum (semen), pre-cum, anal mucous, vaginal fluids and breast milk. The most common way HIV is transmitted is through unprotected anal, vaginal or front-hole sex.
HIV can also spread through sharing injecting or tattooing equipment, as well as from mother to child during pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding.
What are the symptoms or signs?
Some people don’t have symptoms when they get HIV, which means you can have HIV and not know about it. If you do get symptoms, they can appear around two to four weeks after exposure. Common symptoms may include:
- Sore throat
- Swollen glands
- Rapid weight loss
- A continuous dry cough
- Decreased appetite
- Extreme or constant tiredness
- A cold without a runny nose
When someone experiences symptoms after getting HIV they have what is known as seroconversion illness, which is when their body is reacting to the infection
The most common test for HIV is an antibody blood test, a blood sample is taken and sent to a lab for testing, how long the test takes to come back varies from place to place, your healthcare provider can tell you how long it before you have results. It is important to know that it can take between 8 weeks and up to 12 weeks for the body to produce antibodies. This is called the window period, and it may mean that if you have recently had a risk exposure to HIV that it may not be detected by the test. This is why getting tested regularly for HIV is important.
Can it be treated?
Yes, although there is no vaccine or cure for HIV, and if left untreated the infection can cause serious illness and death it is important to know that current treatments for HIV are highly effective in treating the virus. Treatment for HIV is currently provided by highly active anti-viral medications to prevent further damage to the immune system.
How can it be prevented?
There are more tools then ever before to prevent HIV. You can use condoms, Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) and undetectable viral load (UVL). You can use any of these options individually or combine them.
UVL is the most effective method of HIV prevention. UVL is when someone who is HIV positive has reduced the amount of HIV in their body through effective treatment to levels that cannot be detected by current tests. If someone has an UVL there is ZERO risk of transmitting the virus even when having condomless sex.
Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP)
If you think you may have been exposed to HIV you should consider getting PEP. If you think you may have exposed another person to HIV, let them know about PEP and where they can get it.
PEP is a 4 week course of anti-HIV drugs which may prevent HIV infection, provided the treatment is started as soon as possible after the potential exposure.
To be most effective, PEP should be started as soon as possible after exposure to HIV. If it is not started within 72 hours (3 days) it is not likely to work.
To get PEP, contact your local sexual health clinic or hospital emergency department.
Further information on PEP, including a list of clinics or hospitals can be found at www.getpep.info.