- HIV is a virus that can damage the body's defence system
so that it cannot fight off certain infections.
- If someone with HIV goes on to get certain serious illnesses,
this condition is called AIDS.
HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus.
AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.
At the moment, there is no cure for HIV or AIDS. But
there are cures and treatments for many of the illnesses
that people with HIV are prone to. There are also combination
treatments that most people with HIV benefit from, and
many people have definite and major health improvements.
The drugs reduce the level of HIV in the blood and delay
the development of AIDS. Research shows that most people
who are on these treatments live longer and feel better.
However, the drugs can have unpleasant side effects
and many different drugs have to be taken every day,
and some people cannot cope with this. The long-term
effects of being on combination therapy are not yet
There is no vaccine against HIV
HIV infection is spread throughout the world. But there
are some parts of the world - such as sub-Saharan Africa,
Southern Asia and Eastern Europe - where known levels
of infection are higher than in others. The risk is
higher in countries with more people infected with HIV,
but the risk of infection is everywhere. Worldwide,
the commonest way of becoming infected with HIV is by
sex between men and women.
In the UK, over 2500 people test positive for HIV every
year and the number of people living with HIV continues
to rise with most infections being amongst gay and bisexual
men. The rate of HIV infection amongst heterosexual
men and women is also rising. Most of these are among
people from Sub-Saharan Africa.
In the UK there are three main ways in which HIV can
be passed on by:
- having vaginal or anal sex without a condom with
someone who has HIV. Unprotected oral sex also carries
- a mother with HIV to her baby during pregnancy,
at birth or through breastfeeding; and
- sharing needles, syringes or other drug-injecting
equipment that is contaminated with HIV infected blood.
You cannot get HIV through:
- kissing, touching, hugging or shaking hands;
- sharing crockery and cutlery;
- coughing or sneezing;
- contact with toilet seats;
- insect or animal bites;
- swimming pools; or
- eating food prepared by someone with HIV.
As an extra safety measure, all blood, blood products,
organs and tissues for transplant in the UK are screened
for antibodies to HIV. Blood products are also heat-treated.
and other health-care workers use precautions when dealing
with patients to prevent any risk of infection.
It makes sense for anyone giving first aid to follow
standard hygiene and safety precautions and avoid direct
contact with the injured person's blood. If you do get
someone else's blood on your skin, simply wash it off.
|Don't touch the metal
needle. If you are pricked by a used needle, pinch the
wound to make it bleed, clean the area and wash it with
soap and water. Cover it with a plaster and get medical
Anything that punctures the skin, including tattooing,
acupuncture needles and equipment for ear-piercing,
body-piercing or removing hair by electrolysis, could
pass on HIV and other viruses carried by blood (for
example, Hepatitis B and C). Reliable practitioners
will use disposable equipment or sterilise it before
use. Ask if you are unsure and only go ahead with the
procedure if you are satisfied that sterile equipment
is being used.
|As some countries
do not have the same standards of medical and dental care
as in the UK, there may be a risk of getting HIV from
infected blood transfusions, blood products and from unsterile
medical equipment. When you are visiting certain countries,
you may want to take your own first-aid kit, including
sterile needles and syringes.
For more information and for a free copy of the leaflet,
'Travel safe', please call the National AIDS Helpline
free on 0800 567 123. For more advice on any precautions
you need to take for your journey, you can call the
MASTA Traveller's Helpline (Medical Advisory Services
for Travellers Abroad) on 09068 224100. This is a recorded
message, so be prepared to leave your name, address
and journey details. Calls to this number are charged
at 60p a minute.
|Many people work,
travel or take holidays abroad. No matter where you are,
or how widespread the virus is in the country you're visiting,
the main ways of passing on HIV are the same. It's important
to plan ahead. If you think you might meet a new partner,
take a supply of quality condoms and water-based lubricant
|In terms of protection
against HIV, a simple way of understanding safer sex is
to see it as any sex that does not allow an infected partner's
blood, semen, or fluid from the vagina to get inside the
other partner's body. Some kinds of sex - such as kissing
or masturbation - carry no risk of HIV.
|Vaginal and anal
sex without a condom carry the highest risk. HIV can be
passed on to either partner - male or female -during penetrative
sex (where the penis enters the vagina, anus or mouth)
without a condom.
|Oral sex is where
one partner uses their tongue or mouth to stimulate their
partner's genitals. There is a very small risk of infection
through oral sex, but it is less risky than vaginal or
anal sex without a condom.
You can reduce this risk by doing the following.
- Avoid getting semen in your mouth, particularly
if you have any cuts, sores or ulcers in your mouth.
- If the penis is being stimulated during oral sex,
consider using a condom.
- Use a dental dam (a latex square) for oral sex
with a woman. Hold the dental dam over the woman's
genital area to protect you against infection from
vaginal fluid and menstrual blood. They are not widely
available but you may be able to get them from some
sexual health clinics, chemists, shops and some mail-order
agencies. Call the National AIDS Helpline for details
0800 567 123.
a very effective barrier against HIV. They also help protect
against other sexually transmitted infections as well
as unplanned pregnancies.
- Condoms come in a range of shapes, sizes, thicknesses,
colours and flavours.
- Always use condoms with the European CE mark or
CE and British kitemark.
- Most condoms come already lubricated but some people
find using extra water-based lubricant can make sex
more comfortable, and help prevent the condom tearing.
- For anal sex always use plenty of water-based lubricant
to help prevent the condom splitting.
- There is also a female condom (the Femidom) that
fits inside the vagina.
- There is a type of condom (the Avanti) which is
made of thin plastic. The Avanti is suitable for most
people who are allergic to latex. It is said to reduce
the loss of sensitivity that some people complain
of with latex condoms. Avanti comes with a CE mark,
but its use for anal sex has not been tested.
- Male and female condoms will only protect you if
you use them properly. Check the pack for instructions.
- You may already be using some form of contraception,
such as the contraceptive pill. But a good-quality
condom, used properly every time you have sex, can
help protect you against unplanned pregnancy and sexually
transmitted infections including HIV
|If you and your partner
are both HIV negative, stay negative, and have not had
other sexual partners, then you cannot get HIV through
sex. But what if you or your partner have taken risks
with injecting drugs, for example, or you are starting
a new relationship? If for any reason you're thinking
of not using condoms, consider the following.
- You can have the virus and look and feel fit and
- Many people may not know for sure whether they
or their partner have HIV.
- The only way to find out if you're both HIV negative
is to have an HIV test.
|Always use condoms
with other partners you may have.
The more partners you have unprotected sex with, the
more likely you are to come into contact with HIV and
other sexually transmitted infections.
Remember - condoms also protect against other
sexually transmitted infections and unplanned pregnancy.
|Always use your own
equipment or 'works' - syringe, needle, spoon, bowl and
water. See the advice given earlier about sex and staying
safe. Needle exchanges provide free supplies of sterile
equipment and condoms, and can safely dispose of used
|You can reduce the
risk of HIV by cleaning used works thoroughly, first with
water, then with bleach. But this is never as safe as
using your own sterile equipment and may not protect you
against other viruses that are carried in blood (particularly
For details about needle exchanges, cleaning with bleach,
or local drug services, call the 24-hour National Drugs
Helpline on 08007766 00. This service is completely
free and confidential.
|You may have heard
or read about 'the AIDS test', but the test does not show
whether someone has AIDS. The test looks for antibodies
to HIV, in other words, whether someone has been infected
with HIV - the virus that causes AIDS. It's called 'the
HIV-antibody test' or 'HIV test' for short.
Antibodies are substances in the blood that your body
makes to defend itself when you get an infection. Some
antibodies protect against specific infections, but HIV-antibodies
do not protect an infected person from developing HI V-related
diseases and eventually AIDS.
|Most tests are carried
out by NHS sexual health clinics. To find out where to
get a test, call the National AIDS Helpline free on 0800
567 123, phone your local hospital and ask for the GUM
clinic, or look in the phone book under genito-urinary
medicine (GUM), sexually transmitted diseases (STD) or
the old term, venereal diseases (VD).
NHS sexual health (GUM) clinics offer free HIV testing
and screening for other infections. Your GP will not
be told you have had the test without your permission.
All information is kept strictly confidential. You can
go to any clinic, anywhere in the country. You don't
have to use a local one and you don't have to be referred
by your GP.
You can also get the test from your GP. If you take
the test with your GP, the result will probably be entered
in your medical records.
|If you ask for a
test at an NHS sexual health (GUM) clinic, you will see
a doctor, a trained counsellor (health adviser) or a nurse
practitioner in private. He or she will explain what the
test involves and what the results mean. The test will
go ahead only if you agree to have it done. A small sample
of blood will be taken from your arm, sent to a laboratory
and tested. Ask your doctor or counsellor to explain how
you will be told of the result.
|It can take anything
from a few hours to a week or longer to get the result
back. Some clinics can give you the result the same day,
but you may have to book an appointment beforehand.
If your test is positive, you will have to have another
test to check the result.
- No antibodies to HIV were found in your blood.
- This usually means that you do not have HIV.
However, a single negative test result may not be enough
to rely on. It can take up to three months, and sometimes
longer, for HI V-antibodies to show up in the blood
test after someone becomes infected. Because of this
'waiting period', some people who test negative may
be advised to have another test. The clinic staff will
be able to tell you when this will be done.
Also, even if you get a negative result, you can still
become infected in the future if you put yourself at
- Antibodies to HIV were found in your blood.
- You have HIV.
- This does not tell you whether you have AIDS.
Being HIV positive means you will need to look at ways
of taking particular care of your own health. It also
means that you can pass on the virus to others, but
only in certain ways. So:
- always use a condom for vaginal, anal or oral sex;
- if you inject drugs, do not let other people use
your equipment; and
- remember, you cannot pass on the virus through everyday
|All pregnant women
are urged to have an HIV test, along with other antenatal
screening tests. However, you do not have to have a test
if you do not want one.
There are major benefits of knowing you are HIV positive
during pregnancy. The combination treatments mean that
the chances of a woman with HIV passing it on to her
baby can be reduced in different ways. There are treatments
that can be taken during pregnancy, and different options
for giving birth. Another way to reduce the risk is
not to breastfeed, and there are treatments that can
be given to the baby after birth.
If a woman with HIV has a baby, it can take from one
to four months to tell whether the baby has the virus.
Your doctor or midwife can explain this in more detail.
The staff at your clinic can give you more advice and
support, including information on medical and other
treatments. There are many groups and organisations
that offer advice and support to people with HIV and
their family, partners and friends (see the inside back
|If you have the test
at a clinic, the result is strictly confidential to you
and the staff directly concerned with your medical care.
Staff will advise you about consulting your GP. Nobody
will be told of the result without your permission.
|Talking to a trained
counsellor at an NHS sexual health (GUM) clinic will give
you the chance to discuss your concerns and can help you
decide. The final decision will be left to you. Or you
can call the National AIDS Helpline free and in confidence
0800 567 123.
- Looking after yourself - if your test results are
positive, knowing you have HIV will allow you to get
advice and counselling about your own future health.
There are combination treatments that can help delay
the onset of AIDS. You can discuss whether or when
to start the treatments with medical staff at the
clinic. Starting your treatment at the right time
can affect how well it works.
- Life insurance - if you apply for life insurance
you will be asked if you are HIV positive. If you
are, your application is likely to be turned down.
By law, the insurance contract will not be valid if
you do not give accurate information. You will also
be asked to give permission for your GP to provide
information from your medical records about any positive
HIV test result. These days, you should not be asked
if you have ever had an HIV test and tested negative.
- Employment protection - a number of employers now
have a policy that prevents discrimination against
people because they are HIV positive. And in some
cases, it is illegal to discriminate against someone
- Visas - some countries do not allow people with
HIV to enter the country, or need proof of a negative
test result before they will issue a visa or work
|Someone with HIV
or AIDS is just like everybody else and should be entitled
to privacy and respect. The last thing someone with HIV
needs to have to deal with is other people's fears and
prejudices. Remember, you are not at risk of infection
from someone with HIV through everyday social contact.
Don't break up a friendship because someone you know has
HIV or AIDS. Friendship and support are two of the most
important things you can offer.