HIV stands for ‘Human Immunodeficiency Virus’. HIV is a virus which attacks the immune system and weakens a person’s ability to fight off infections and diseases.
How do you get HIV?
HIV is found in the body fluids of an infected person, which includes semen, vaginal and anal fluids, blood, and breast milk. It is a fragile virus and does not survive outside the body for long.
HIV cannot be transmitted through sweat or urine.
The most common way of getting HIV in the UK is by anal or vaginal sex without a condom. According to statistics from Public Health England, 95% of those diagnosed with HIV in the UK in 2013 acquired HIV as a result of sexual contact.
Other ways of getting HIV include:
- using a contaminated needle, syringe or other injecting equipment
- tranmission from mother to baby during pregnancy, birth or breastfeeding
- through oral sex or sharing sex toys (although the risk is significantly lower than for anal and vaginal sex)
What are the symptoms of early HIV infection?
The most common symptoms of early HIV infection, usually occurring around ten days after infection, are fever, rash and severe sore throat all occurring together. This combination of symptoms is unusual in healthy people and indicates the need for an HIV test. 70-90% of people experience symptoms of early HIV infection but some do not experience any. After two-three weeks these symptoms disappear, and someone with HIV may then live for many years without any further symptoms or indicators that they are HIV positive.
Is HIV and AIDS the same thing?
No. When someone is described as living with HIV, they have the HIV virus in their body. A person is considered to have developed AIDS when the immune system is so weak it can no longer fight off a range of diseases with which it would normally cope.