HIV is the Human Immunodeficiency Virus. It damages your body’s immune system so it cannot fight off infections and can lead to Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS).
You can get HIV by having unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex as well as close genital contact or sharing needles or other injecting equipment. Mums with HIV can pass on the virus to their baby during pregnancy, birth or through breastfeeding. You can’t get HIV from every day social contact. So, you can’t get it from holding hands, kissing or sharing toilet seats.
People with HIV may have the following symptoms two to six weeks after they are infected:
- a fever
- sore throat
- joint pain
- muscle pain
- swollen glands
- a blotchy rash on the chest.
Then you might not experience any symptoms for years but the virus is still growing and damaging your immune system. Left untreated, after 10 years your immune system will be damaged and you risk serious infection such as Tuberculosis, pneumonia and some cancers.
HIV is preventable and treatable, but not curable. If you think you could have been exposed to the virus, get tested at your local GP, sexual health centre or GUM clinic.
Current treatment for HIV is a combination of three or more antiviral drugs which must be taken every day for life.