HIV – The Basic Facts
HIV is a virus which stands for – Human Immunodeficiency Virus. Over time HIV slowly attacks your immune system which is the part of the body that fights off infection. This process can take many years until the immune system becomes damaged and can lead to you becoming ill.
However treatment is available which whilst not eliminating HIV, it can reduce the virus to very low levels thus preventing the immune system becoming damaged.
If someone is infected with HIV, the virus is present in certain body fluids (e.g. blood, vaginal fluid, semen, anal mucous and breast milk). HIV can be passed from one person to another if these body fluids get into the bloodstream of the other person by very specific means.
- Unprotected vaginal or anal sex (i.e. penetrative sex without the use of a condom/femidom).
- Sharing needles or syringes for injecting drug use.
- From mother to baby during pregnancy, birth or via breastfeeding.
HIV cannot be passed on by everyday contact such as kissing, hugging, touching, sharing cups and crockery, sharing toilet seats, or from insect bites.
AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. AIDS is the term that describes what happens to someone who has had HIV for some time and whose immune system is so damaged by HIV that illnesses that would otherwise be easily fought off can take hold and affect them (these are called opportunistic infections).
These illnesses may include rare kinds of cancers, types of pneumonia, brain diseases and bacterial / fungal infections.
HIV and AIDS are not the same thing. Someone who has HIV can live for many years before getting an AIDS diagnosis. You cannot catch AIDS and people do not die from HIV but an AIDS related illness. It’s also important to state that with the right treatment at the right time, you are less likely to progress to an AIDS diagnosis, and can remain healthy and well for a very long time.
Further info about HIV / AIDS can be found at: www.avert.org
- An international HIV & AIDS Charity.