HIV is a blood-borne virus that can develop into Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) if left untreated.
Causes & preventions
HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. It is passed on when infected pre-cum, semen, blood or vaginal fluid enters the body of an uninfected person. This can happen by:
HIV cannot be transmitted through saliva, sweat, tears, mucous, vomit, urine or faeces and you cannot catch HIV from kissing, hugging, sharing eating utensils, shaking hands or any other everyday social contact.There is no need to be scared of a person living with HIV.
Currently, there is no vaccine for HIV. The best way to prevent the infection is to use condoms when you engage in anal or vaginal sex. You should also use water-based lubricant to reduce the risk of a broken condom.
There is also Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP). It’s a daily pill that is effective in preventing the HIV virus from becoming established in the body.
You can talk to your GP or local sexual health clinic to find out more about PrEP.
If you are injecting drugs, do not share needles or injecting equipment as HIV can be transmitted via blood-contaminated equipment. Free, sterile injecting equipment is available via the Queensland Needle and Syringe Program.
Also, do not have sex if you or your sexual partner has a genital sore, ulcer or STI until it has been treated. Untreated STIs allow HIV to spread more easily.
If you believe you may have been exposed to HIV, you may still be able to prevent the infection by using post exposure prophylaxis (PEP) treatment. It is vital to take PEP immediately after being exposed to HIV, preferably within two hours, but it may still be effective within 72 hours. Once the PEP treatment is started it must be taken at specific times over a four-week period. Find out where to get PEP here.
People who have been recently exposed to HIV may experience flu-like symptoms, while others will have no symptoms at all. After initial symptoms disappear, HIV may not cause any symptoms for many years. During this time, the virus can be passed on without people knowing. While you may look and feel healthy, the untreated virus could be doing harm to your body.
Risks if not treated
If HIV is left undiagnosed or untreated, it may develop into AIDS. This can damage the immune system, making it hard for the body to protect itself from disease. When damage is severe a person can get sick from related infections or cancers and develop other life-threatening illnesses.
Testing & treatment
Testing for HIV requires a blood test.
If you’ve recently had unprotected anal or vaginal sex, or you think you may have been exposed to HIV through sharing needles or other injecting equipment, you should get tested as soon as possible.
You will need to wait until 6 to 12 weeks after exposure before a blood test can provide a reliable result. During this time, always use condoms and under no circumstances should you donate blood.
To find out where you can get a rapid HIV test use this clinic search tool.
HIV is currently not curable but medication like HIV antiretroviral treatment (ART) helps people with HIV lead long, healthy lives and lowers the chance of spreading the virus to other people.
ARTs keep the virus from multiplying and provide the immune system with relief from HIV infection, allowing it to strengthen.
People living with HIV should consult an HIV specialist to ensure they can access the latest treatment, support and clinical advice.
Starting treatment for HIV as early as possible will improve long-term health prospects. Starting it later can increase the time the virus has to damage the immune system.
HIV ARTs are subsidised through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) for anybody with a Medicare card.
You can find out more about treatment and support on the Queensland Positive People website.
If you find out that you do have HIV, anyone you’ve had unprotected anal or vaginal sex with should be advised to have a test. If you feel unable to tell your current or ex-partners, your GP or a member of your healthcare team can assist by contacting them. This will be done discreetly and confidentially in order to protect your privacy. It is extremely important for your partner’s health and the health of other people they may have sex with that partner notification occurs.