HIV

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Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a type of infection. The HIV virus can attack the body's immune system which is how your body usually fights infection. When your immune system becomes damaged by HIV you may not be able to fight infection and you can become unwell.

Most HIV infections are contracted sexually, but it can also be passed on through:

  • infected blood
  • semen
  • vaginal fluids
  • rectal secretions
  • or breast milk.

It is most often transmitted through:

  • having sex without a condom
  • sharing infected needles, syringes or other injecting drug equipment
  • breastfeeding.

Around a quarter of the estimated 100,000 people living with HIV in the UK do not know that they have the infection, and around half of people newly diagnosed with HIV are diagnosed after the point at which they should have started treatment. This is important as people may pass on the virus to others if they do not know that they have the infection. People diagnosed late may be at risk of developing serious infections if they do not receive treatment at the right time.

Symptoms

The symptoms can occur just after being infected with HIV – this is called primary HIV infection or sero-coversion.

The symptoms of primary infection are similar to flu:

  • sore throat
  • high temperature
  • and a rash.

After sero-conversion has taken place, a person can be well and have no symptoms for a long time. This is a time when people with HIV can still be infectious to others and often remain undiagnosed.

Results and treatment

If you have a reactive test you will be advised to have a second test to confirm the result as soon as possible. The results bureau will advise you how to do this.

Advances in the treatment and management of HIV mean that many people are now able to live a normal life for many years with this condition.