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What is HIV/AIDS?

Learn more about HIV and AIDS, how to avoid catching the virus, the symptoms and what some of the myths are.

What is HIV/AIDS?: 

HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus and is a virus which attacks your immune system and weakens your ability to fight infections and disease.

According to estimates from the World Health Organisation (WHO) around 35.3 million across the World are living with AID/HIV.

If it isn’t treated, HIV develops into AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). 

AIDS is fatal. You can become very vulnerable physically and unable to protect yourself against illness. Any small illness, even a cold, could kill you because your body has no resistance to germs. There is no cure or vaccine yet. 

What are the symptoms of HIV?: 

HIV affects the body’s immune system so there are often no visible symptoms. Any symptoms that do occur could be caused by other illnesses. 

If you think you may have been at risk of catching HIV then the only way to confirm if you have HIV is to get a blood test. You can get a blood test at sexual health clinics and at some GP surgeries. 

To find your local sexual health clinic visit the NHS Choices website.

How do you get infected by HIV?: 

There are a few different ways people can become infected HIV/AIDS.

  • Having unprotected sexual intercourse.
  • Sharing needles with an infected person.
  • From an infected mother to her child through pregnancy or through breast feeding. 

About 90% of all people infected by HIV had become infected through unprotected sex.

You can't catch HIV by using the same toilet seat, sneezing, kissing, cuddling, shaking hands, or sharing cooking utensils. 

What’s the treatment for HIV?: 

HIV can be managed through drug therapy which slows down the effect the virus has on the body. More and more people who have contacted the disease continue to live long and successful lives.

The sooner treatment is started the more effective it can be, so if you think you might be at risk then get tested.

What can I do to reduce the risk of catching HIV?: 

The best protection is to always use a condom whenever you have vaginal or anal sex and dam or condom for oral sex. 

For more information on how you can have safe sex visit our article on 'How can I have safe sex?'.

Common myths about HIV/AIDS: 

There is a lot of myths which are floating around about HIV. This has been caused by misunderstanding and wrong beliefs about HIV. Here are some that are more widespread:

MYTH: You can get HIV if someone spits at you or bites you.

THE FACTS: There is no risk of HIV infection from spitting and the risk from biting is very very low. With all the cases of HIV ever reported there have only been 4 incidences of HIV infection from biting and these were in very unusual circumstances.

MYTH: It's very easy for me to catch HIV from someone who is infected.

THE FACTS: You can only be infected if you have sex without a condom or if you share injecting equipment with someone living with HIV. 

HIV is not spread through day to day contact such as touching, kissing, sharing kitchen utensils. Being on HIV treatment also means that people are less likely to pass it on.

MYTH: Only gay men get HIV.

THE FACTS: It is true that gay men particularly are affected by HIV, but it can still affect anyone. 

There are many heterosexual people living with HIV and the majority of new cases were passed on heterosexually. One third of people living with HIV in the UK are women.

Find out the truth about these and other common myths from the HIV Aware website.