HIV: the facts

HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus, it is a treatable long-term condition and with early diagnosis and prompt treatment people living with HIV can lead normal lives.

. HIV is passed on through blood, semen, vaginal fluid, anal mucus and breast milk, if the person with HIV has a detectable viral load. It’s not passed on by sneezing or coughing.

Condoms stop HIV being passed on

Using a condom correctly prevents contact with semen or vaginal secretions (and blood), stopping HIV from being passed on. The virus cannot pass through the material of the condom. Condoms should only be used with a water-based lubricant as oil-based lube weakens them.

Medical evidence shows that people using HIV treatment can’t pass on HIV

A viral load is the amount of HIV in the blood, someone who is on treatment and who is taking it as prescribed can have an undetectable viral load. This means the levels of HIV are so low that the virus cannot be passed on. This is called having an undetectable viral load or being undetectable.

It can take up to six months for some people to become undetectable from when they start treatment.

If HIV is left untreated, the infection progresses through a series of stages: from flu-like illnesses, to infections, leading to late-stage HIV or AIDS.

What is AIDS?

AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. It is a collection of illnesses (‘syndrome’) caused by a virus people pick up (‘acquire’) that makes their immune system weak (‘immune deficiency’).

In the 1980s and early 90s, most people with HIV were eventually diagnosed with AIDS. Now, thanks to modern antiretroviral treatment, very few people in the UK develop serious HIV-related illnesses. The term AIDS isn’t used much by UK doctors. Instead they talk about late-stage or advanced HIV.

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