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HIV and AIDS

HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is a virus that affects your immune system. The immune system is what we use to defend ourselves against bugs that can make us ill (bacteria, viruses, fungi).

When the immune system is attacked by HIV, we cannot fight infections very well. It takes some years for HIV to destroy the immune system. When the immune system is destroyed, people get AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome).

So, this means you can have HIV, but you might not have AIDS which is what can kill you and make you feel ill.

Nowadays, there are lots of medications available to stop HIV attacking the immune system so badly and so prevent people from getting AIDS for a long time. This means there is no cure for HIV yet but we have found ways of slowing the process down and people can live healthy lives.

How do you get HIV?

HIV lives in blood and body juices like semen (cum), vaginal fluid and breast milk.

You can get HIV from:

  • unprotected sex
  • from sharing needles (hard drug users, tattoo shops)
  • a baby can get it from their mum (if she is infected) in the womb, when they are delivered or via breast milk.
  • You cannot get HIV from shaking hands, hugging people or sitting near someone.

How do you know if you have HIV?

When it is first passed on, about 2-6 weeks later, sometimes people get ill. This can be a mild illness like a cold or a rash, or it can be a serious illness with inflammation of the brain.

Everybody gets different symptoms. Usually, people get better from this and then the virus starts to multiply in the body although you might not feel ill for several years. So, a lot of people with HIV don't know when they acquired it.

If you go and see a doctor when you are ill it is worth telling them if you have had unprotected sex. After some time, as the virus conquers the immune system, you start to get infections. Sometimes these are from bugs that normally, you would be able to fight off. You can get infections anywhere: the skin, the lungs, the brain, etc.

How do we diagnose it?

By doing a blood test. If you come in for a sexual health screen, we will ask you if you want to be tested.

It can take 3 months from the time the virus is passed on for the blood tests to become positive. If you come in and say you had unprotected sex a couple of weeks ago, we can do a test on the day that you come and see us but to be sure what the result is, you need to have another test 3 months after.

How do we treat HIV?

Medication can make you feel a bit better physically and we can certainly help with that. We recognise that is only part of the problem.

You might find it difficult to understand why it is happening to you, might feel discriminated against and everything we discuss with you remains confidential. You might have worries about employment, future relationships, housing. We can help you get in touch with people that can help. 

If you have HIV or are affected by it in anyway, for example a parent or sibling or friend has HIV, please come in and see us. We have lots of information that might be useful, people that you can talk to and lots of help you can get with the issues mentioned. 

Check out www.tht.org.uk and www.bodyandsoulcharity.org/