HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. It is primarily transmitted in blood, semen and vaginal fluids via unprotected sex or sharing injecting equipment. HIV is the virus that can cause AIDS.
Acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) is not a single disease. It is a spectrum of conditions that occur when a person's immune system is seriously damaged after years of attack by HIV. The terms HIV and AIDS are not interchangeable. It is important to remember that a person who is infected with HIV does not necessarily have AIDS. However, all people with AIDS have HIV.
HIV damages the body's immune system and renders the body vulnerable to other diseases and infections - its symptoms are most commonly similar to those of any chronic viral infection. During advanced stages of HIV infection,
a person may develop any of a number of opportunistic infections considered to be AIDS defining illnesses.
HIV is detected by an HIV antibody test. It is incorrect to call it an 'AIDS test' because the test cannot detect AIDS, but instead detects the antibodies that are produced as a result of HIV infection. It can take up to three months for someone's immune system to produce antibodies to HIV. This is called the 'window period'. An HIV antibody test performed during this window period could be negative even though the person may be infected.
There are now special blood tests (nucleic acid amplification) which can detect HIV infection during the window period.
A person who has a positive HIV antibody test can be referred to as being 'HIV positive'.
The ability of HIV to live outside the body is very limited and therefore HIV is not particularly easy to transmit. It is a communicable disease, but it is not contagious like air-borne viruses such as influenza. HIV cannot be transmitted by hugging, shaking hands, coughing or sneezing.
Nor can it be transmitted by sharing glasses, cups or utensils.
There are three main modes of HIV transmission:
Any unprotected anal or vaginal intercourse, that is, insertive or receptive sex without the use of a condom or barrier, has the potential to transmit HIV. The risk of transmission is
greater when the person also has an untreated sexually transmitted infection. There is a much lower risk of transmission through oral sex, but this risk increases when there are cuts or sores in the mouth where HIV may enter the bloodstream.
Safe sex prevents semen, pre-ejaculate, vaginal fluid or blood from coming into direct contact with the internal membranes of another person. Penetrative sex can be made safer by using a condom and water-based lubricant (lube). Condoms remain the best protection against the sexual transmission of HIV, provided they are used correctly.
A water-based lubricant should always be used with condoms to prevent breakage.
The presence of certain STIs significantly increases the risk of getting or passing on HIV. People infected with an STI are generally at higher risk of getting HIV. People infected with both HIV and an STI are at a high risk of passing on HIV. Many STIs show minor or no symptoms so it is possible to have an STI and not know about it. If you have sex with lots of guys, it is important to check your sexual health every 3 to 6 months. If you notice any symptoms such as
discharge from your cock or arse, or sores or rashes, you need to be checked right away. Sexual health checks are easy, quick and painless.