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What is HIV? Expand

HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus.

HIV is a virus that gradually weakens a person’s immune system, reducing their protection against other diseases. Thanks to the progression of effective treatment, it is likely that people with HIV will live long healthy lives.

AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. It means a collection of potentially life-threatening infections and illnesses (‘syndrome’) caused by a virus people pick up (‘acquire’) when their immune system has been severely damaged by the HIV virus (‘immune deficiency’). You cannot get an AIDS diagnosis unless you are already HIV positive.

While HIV is preventable and treatable, there is currently no cure. The earlier that someone living with HIV is diagnosed, the quicker they can begin treatment. Someone living with HIV who is on effective treatment can’t pass it on to other people.

Effective treatment can reduce the viral load to undetectable levels, and when the viral load is undetectable, it means HIV is untransmissible. This is called undetectable = untransmissible (U=U).

The sooner a person starts treatment, the less likely they are to become seriously ill. That’s why it is so important to get tested regularly for HIV infection (at least once a year, or whenever you have a new sexual partner).

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

How is HIV transmitted? Expand

HIV is not passed on easily from one person to another, especially compared to other viruses. That’s because HIV is present in body fluids (e.g. semen (including pre-cum), vaginal fluids, anal mucus, breast milk, blood). So for HIV to be passed on, the body fluids of someone who  has already contracted HIV have to get into the bloodstream of a person who has not acquired HIV.

Other body fluids, like saliva, sweat or urine, do not contain enough of the virus to affect another person

The main ways that HIV can be transmitted are:

  • through sexual intercourse and other sexual activities
  • from mother to baby
  • from blood to blood
  • sharing injecting equipment

Condoms are one of the most simple and effective ways to prevent the transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. Find out where to get free condoms here.

Read more about Testing for HIV here

Find loads more information about HIV, how it is transmitted, when testing is most effective and how it works, by visiting the National AIDS Trust website.

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Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)

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