What is HIV/AIDS?
HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. Once someone is infected with HIV the virus will remain in the body for the rest of their life.
There are excellent treatments available which control HIV and prevent it from causing damage to the body’s defence system (the immune system). However, if a person who has HIV remains undiagnosed and/or untreated, the body’s defence system (the immune system) will in most cases eventually become weaker as a result of the action of the virus.
This process can be very gradual and can take many years. A person is only diagnosed with “AIDS” (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) when the immune system is no longer functioning effectively and they then go on to develop one or more particular illnesses. The term AIDS is rarely used these days. Late stage or advanced HIV are the terms used instead. Even at the virus’s late stage, however, HIV treatment can be highly effective in supporting the immune system to recover.
How common is HIV?
In 2014 an estimated 103,700 people were living with HIV in the UK. 17% of these people living with HIV were not aware of their diagnosis. Both men and women, transwomen, transmen, straight, gay, bisexual and lesbian can catch HIV and can transmit the virus. You don’t need to have lots of sexual partners to catch HIV.
How is it transmitted?
HIV is transmitted from one person to another when the blood, semen (including pre-cum), vaginal, and anal fluids or breast milk of an infected person enters the body of an uninfected person by:
- Having vaginal or anal sex without a condom.
- Using a needle or injecting equipment which has already been used by someone infected with HIV.
- Oral sex. This is much lower risk than unprotected vaginal or anal sex however but there is a small risk if someone with HIV ejaculates (cums) in your mouth, and you have ulcerated or bleeding gums.
- Mother to child transmission. This is where the virus passes from the mother the child during pregnancy, childbirth or breast feeding. This is very rare in the UK as all expectant mothers should be offered an HIV test during their antenatal care. There are steps that can be taken to reduce the possibility of the child contracting HIV, including giving the mother and child antiretroviral HIV drugs, and not breastfeeding the baby. This can be discussed as part of your antenatal care.
How accurate are the tests?
No test is 100% accurate. However, the test used by TakeATestUK are fourth generation CE-marked laboratory HIV tests. These check for the presence of HIV antigens and antibodies and are capable of detecting these with a 95% accuracy after four weeks (one month) and a 99.7% accuracy after twelve weeks (three months).
It can take up to 4 weeks after you have become infected for HIV to show up on an HIV test. If you have had a risk in the 4 weeks prior to taking a test, and this first test is negative, it would therefore be advisable to repeat the test at least 4 weeks after the risk.
What are the symptoms?
People with HIV may have no symptoms for a long time, often for 10 years or more, but most (about 70-90%) will experience some symptoms soon after infection.
Symptoms of Early HIV
The most common signs are a fever (high temperature), rash and a severe sore throat – all at the same time. Some people may also get diarrhoea.
It’s common for people who experience cold- or flu-type symptoms to worry that these may be signs of HIV, when often they are just signs of a cold or flu. But, if you experience all of these symptoms between 1 and 4 weeks after being in a situation where you think you may have been at risk, you should have an HIV test.
Symptoms of advanced HIV
If HIV is left untreated it can cause many different symptoms and illnesses which result from a weakened immune system. These symptoms can affect all parts of the body but commonly affect the brain and nerves, the lungs and the skin.
It is not possible to diagnose HIV by symptoms alone as the symptoms could also be related to many other health conditions. Taking a test is the only way of knowing for sure your HIV status.
If you are experiencing health problems which are not resolving or are getting worse, and you know you have had a risk for HIV in the past, then taking a test for HIV could save your life.
If your test shows that you have HIV, excellent and easy-to-take treatment is available which will control the HIV in your body, allowing your immune system to recover.
HIV Treatment and Care
HIV is preventable and treatable and most people who are diagnosed HIV-positive live long and healthy lives.
Current treatment for HIV consists of a combination of three or more antiretroviral tablets which must be taken every day for life. If you diagnose positive for HIV you will see a specialist team including a doctor, pharmacist, nurse specialist, health adviser and dietician, who will work with you to find the best treatment combination and support structure for your lifestyle.
Still not sure whether to test?
If you are unsure about whether to test or not or would like more information or support before you test please call 0121 424 3213 and ask to speak to a health adviser (please quote this website when you call)