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STIs – HIV

How do you get it?

HIV is found in the body fluids of an infected person. This includes semen, vaginal and anal fluids, blood and breast milk.

It’s a fragile virus and does not survive outside the body for long.

HIV cannot be transmitted through sweat, urine or saliva.

The most common way of getting HIV in the UK is through unprotected anal or vaginal sex. Wearing a condom can prevent this.

Sharing needles, syringes or other injecting equipment.

Transmission from mother to baby during pregnancy, birth or breastfeeding.

The Symptoms

Most people experience a short flu-like illness 2 to 6 weeks after HIV infection, which lasts for a week or two.

After these symptoms disappear, HIV may not cause any symptoms for many years, although the virus continues to damage your immune system.

This means many people with HIV do not know they’re infected.

 

HIV

The Risks

Can develop, if untreated, into AIDs. AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) is the name used to describe a number of potentially life-threatening infections and illnesses that happen when your immune system has been severely damaged by the HIV virus.

Without treatment, the immune system will become severely damaged, and life-threatening illnesses such as cancer and severe infections can occur.

Testing

The only way to find out if you have HIV is to have an HIV test.

Testing a sample of your blood or saliva for signs of the infection.

Clinics may offer a finger prick blood test, which can give you a result in minutes, but it may take up to a few days to get the results of a more detailed HIV test
home testing or home sampling kits are available to buy online or from pharmacies.

Anyone who thinks they could have HIV should get tested.

Some people are advised to have regular tests as they’re at particularly high risk. These Can be done at a GP or GUM clinic.

 

Treatment

Emergency anti-HIV medicine called post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) may stop you becoming infected if started within 72 hours of possible exposure to the virus.

People at high risk can take PrEP to reduce your risk of getting the virus.

Antiretroviral medicines are used to treat HIV. They work by stopping the virus replicating in the body, allowing the immune system to repair itself and preventing further damage.

HIV is able to develop resistance to a single HIV medicine very easily, but taking a combination of different medicines makes this much less likely.

For people with HIV, if you have been taking effective HIV treatment and your viral load has been undetectable for 6 months or more, it means you cannot pass the virus on through sex.