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HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that attacks the immune system and weakens your ability to fight infections and disease.

HIV is found in the body fluids of an infected person, which includes semen, vaginal & anal fluids, blood, and breast milk. It is a fragile virus and does not survive outside the body for long.

It cannot be transmitted through sweat or urine.

The most common way of getting HIV in the UK is by anal or vaginal sex without a condom. There is also a risk of transmission through oral sex, but this is much lower. According to statistics from Public Health England, 95% of those diagnosed with HIV in the UK in 2013 acquired HIV as a result of sexual contact.

Other ways of getting HIV include:

  • Using a contaminated needle, syringe or other injecting equipment
  • Transmission from mother to baby during pregnancy, birth or breastfeeding

It's also possible for HIV to spread through oral sex and sharing sex toys, although the chances of this happening are very low. For example, it's estimated that you only have a 1 in 5,000 chance of getting HIV if you give unprotected oral sex to someone with the infection.

AIDS is the final stage of HIV infection, when your body can no longer fight life-threatening infections. With early diagnosis and effective treatment, most people with HIV will not go on to develop AIDS.

You can book to have a confidential HIV test at any of our clinics or if you live in Wirral and are aged 16+ you can request a FREE NHS postal test kit that will include a self-screening test for HIV. The kit will require you to take a spot test of blood from your finger, however clear instructions are provided in the kit with a freepost envelope for you to return your sample to the laboratory for testing. Log on here to request your kit.

How common is HIV?

At the end of 2014, there were an estimated 103,700 people in the UK living with HIV. The majority were infected through sex (43,000 gay and bisexual men and 54,100 heterosexuals).

An estimated 17% of people with HIV (18,100) do not know they are infected.

Around one in every 620 people in the UK has HIV, but the two groups with highest rates of HIV are gay & bisexual men (approximately 1 in 20) and Black African heterosexuals (approximately 1 in 56 men and 1 in 22 women).

The World Health Organisation estimates that around 35 million people in the world are living with HIV. The virus is more common in many sub-Saharan African countries.

Preventing HIV

Anyone who has sex without a condom or shares needles is at risk of HIV infection.

The best way to prevent HIV is to use a condom for sex and to never share needles or other injecting equipment (including syringes, spoons and swabs). Knowing your HIV status and that of your partner is also important.

For people with HIV, effective antiretroviral therapy significantly reduces the risk of passing HIV to sexual partners.

Useful websites: