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HIV Testing Week (16-22 November)

13 November 2019

We're supporting HIV Testing Week.

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

Did you know you can get HIV from:

  • vaginal or anal sex without a condom if your partner has an unknown HIV status or a detectable viral load (how much of the virus a person carries in their bloodstream)  and you aren't taking PrEP (high risk)
  • sharing injecting drug equipment (high risk)
  • oral sex (low risk)

It's possible for a pregnant woman to pass HIV onto her unborn baby in the womb and during childbirth. There's also a small possibility that HIV can be passed on through breastfeeding, although effective HIV medication makes this extremely unlikely.

You can't get HIV from:

  • sex with a partner who has HIV, but is on treatment and has an undetectable viral load (learn more about 'undetectable equals untransmittable' and U=U here)
  • touching, hugging, shaking hands or sharing utensils
  • kissing, spitting or sharing saliva
  • urine or faeces
  • biting or scratching
  • insect bites
  • contact with a discarded needle

What are the symptoms of early HIV infection?
There are symptoms of very early ('primary' or 'acute') HIV infection, which 70-90% of people experience within the first three months after acquiring HIV. At this point the viral load (how much of the virus a person carries in their bloodstream) is particularly high.

Many of these symptoms are not unique to HIV and include:

  • flu-like symptoms
  • fever
  • headache
  • mouth ulcers
  • night sweats
  • weight loss
  • swollen glands

After these symptoms pass, someone with HIV may then live for many years without any indication that they have the virus. 

 HIV and AIDS - what is the difference? 
HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is a virus which attacks the immune system - the body's defense against diseases.

It stays in the body for life, but treatment can keep the virus under control and the immune system healthy. Without medication people with HIV can develop AIDS.

AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) is the most advanced stage of a HIV infection, when the immune system can no longer fight infections.

Someone with AIDS has both HIV and at least one of a specific list of 'AIDS-defining' diseases, which include tuberculosis, pneumonia and some types of cancer.

AIDS is life threatening, but if HIV is caught early and is treated, it will not lead to AIDS. If HIV is caught late, it can lead to more complications and could ultimately lead to AIDS. That's why it's so important to get tested early if you have been at risk of HIV, as it will mean that you can access treatment that will prevent you ever getting AIDS.

Helpful links and information

Terrence Higgins Trust

Terrence Higgins Trust - Can't Pass It On

HIV Prevention England

Stories from people living with HIV