What are the risks?

HIV Explained

HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus.

This particular virus was discovered in the mid 1980s and belongs to a group of viruses called ‘retroviruses’.
HIV attacks the immune system, and gradually causes damage. This can mean that a person infected with HIV is at risk of developing some serious infections and cancers that a healthy immune system can fight off.

A test can tell if you have HIV. If you do, this is described as being HIV-positive.

There is at present no cure for HIV. However, there are a range of anti-retroviral drugs, and treatment with a combination of these drugs can mean a longer and healthy life.
HIV is present in bodily fluids including; blood, genital fluids and breast milk, the main ways to contract HIV are therefore:

  • during unprotected sex
  • Through blood to blood contact (eg) through the sharing of needles amongst injecting drug users.
  • from a mother to her baby during pregnancy, birth or through breastfeeding.

But there are ways of preventing HIV infection in all of these situations.

What is Aids?



Reducing the risk

There are ways of reducing the risk of HIV infection in all of these situations including:

  • HIV education and awareness
  • Know your HIV status
  • HIV testing and treatment
  • Proper use of condoms when engaging in penetrative oral, anal or vaginal sex
  • Fewer sexual partners
  • Regular sexual health check ups
  • Never share needles/ injecting equipment
  • Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) is a course of medication which may stop you from becoming HIV positive if you take it within 72 hours of possible exposure to HIV. It is available from GUM clinics and Accident and Emergency departments under strict prescribing guidelines. PEP has to be taken daily for a month and can cause unpleasant side effects-it is not a substitute for condom use.

The only way to know for sure if you have HIV is by having an HIV test.

What is AIDS?

AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.

AIDS is the name used to describe a combination of potentially life-threatening infections and cancers, which can develop when someone’s immune system has been damaged by HIV.

You cannot catch AIDS and there is no AIDS test. HIV causes AIDS and it is HIV that can be passed on.

Being diagnosed with AIDS or Advanced stage HIV, means different things for different people. Just because someone has AIDS does not mean they will die – but it is important to have medical care and treatment.

What is the link between HIV and AIDS?

AIDS is the name used to describe a combination of potentially life-threatening infections and cancers that can develop in people who have HIV.

Over time, infection with HIV damages the immune system, This means that the body cannot fight off a number of serious infections and cancers, which are sometimes called ‘AIDS-defining’.

Just because you are diagnosed with an AIDS-defining illness doesn’t mean that you are going to die. Many of these illnesses can be cured or managed.

Treatment with combinations of anti-retroviral drugs can keep the immune system strong, and because of this the number of people who are diagnosed with AIDS has fallen. Thanks to effective HIV treatment, many people who developed AIDS or Advanced stage HIV are now very well and can look forward to a long and healthy life.