Learn the facts, fight the stigma, stay safe
Knowledge is power when it comes to HIV/AIDS, and being clued up on the facts will help reduce your risk of becoming infected, and help you get diagnosed early if you are infected.
What is HIV?
- HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus.
- HIV affects the immune system and makes it weak.
- HIV depletes the number of T-cells which work to protect our body from illness.
- A person with HIV can appear healthy.
What is AIDS?
- AIDS stands for Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome.
- If left untreated, HIV can weaken the immune system to the point where it is weakened so much that it is called AIDS.
- AIDS results in so few T-cells in the blood stream the body can no longer defend itself which can lead to death.
- It can often take a long time for someone with HIV to develop AIDS, often over 8 or more years.
How is HIV transmitted?
- Many rumours about HIV still exist in the UK as a result of hysteria created at the time the virus emerged in the West.
- If you know the facts, you can effectively protect yourself from contracting HIV.
- There are five bodily fluids in which HIV can survive: blood, semen, vaginal fluids, the lining inside the anus, and breast milk. HIV can therefore be transmitted via:
- Unprotected vaginal or anal sex
- Sharing needles or syringes
- From mother to baby before or during birth or by breastfeeding
- Sharing sex toys with someone infected with HIV
- Oral sex where the person giving oral sex has mouth ulcers, sores or bleeding gums (less common)
- Blood transfusion (now very rare in the UK
- HIV cannot survive in saliva, sweat, urine, faeces, or on toilet seats or door handles. This means it cannot be transmitted via things like:
- Hugging or kissing someone who has HIV
- Mouth-to-mouth resuscitation
- Using the same toilet seat as someone who has HIV
- Sharing food or drink with someone has HIV
- Being sneezed on or coming into contact with spit
- Being touched by someone who has HIV
- Using public swimming pools
- Contact with animals or insects like mosquitoes
How can I reduce my risk of being infected?
- Do not share needles or syringes - many local authorities and pharmacies offer needle exchange programmes, where used needles can be exchanged for clean ones.
- Using a condom and other forms of barrier contraception during sexual activity is the best way to protect against sharing bodily fluids like semen, blood, and vaginal fluids.
- Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) medication is a medication taken before intercourse, and reduces your risk of getting the virus by almost 100%. It is available to some people who are at high risk of HIV infection. www.iwantprepnow.co.uk is a useful directory for checking your eligibility and accessing the medication.
- Remember that you always have the right to say no when it comes to having sex and sharing needles.
Should I get tested?
- Seek medical advice immediately if you believe you have taken a risk which may have exposed you to contracting HIV. The earlier the diagnosis the earlier you can start treatment and avoid becoming seriously ill.
- Anti-HIV medication (PEP) may stop the infection if you take it within 72 hours of being exposed to the virus.
- Remember that most people living with HIV may not show symptoms until months, even years after being infected, therefore it’s important to get tested as regularly as possible.
- The most common test consists of a simple blood test.
- It is important to remember that while there is no cure, there are medications that can be prescribed to ensure that people with HIV can live a normal, healthy life
Where can I get tested?
The NHS also has a tool you can use to locate HIV testing services near you.