HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. HIV is the virus that, if left untreated, can attack the immune system leading to a range of serious illnesses sometimes known as AIDS.
HIV is transmitted through unprotected (condomless) vaginal and anal sex.
AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. It is the range of illnesses people get when HIV has damaged their immune system, usually because their HIV has been undiagnosed and untreated for a long period of time.
When it is said that someone dies of AIDS, it is the opportunistic infections resulting from an immune system weakened by HIV infection that cause death.
Most people cannot tell that they have picked up HIV. The tests have improved in recent years and can give you a result quite quickly though any positive result needs to be confirmed with an additional blood test.
Some people only discover they have HIV when they become seriously ill and clinicians carry out an HIV test as part of trying to diagnose what is wrong. If you think you might have been at risk, it's important to get tested early and / or regularly in order to get the best results from the treatments available.
It is estimated that more than 25% of HIV+ people are unaware of their HIV status. Many of these people look and feel healthy and do not think they are at risk. You should be tested if you:
If you test positive for HIV there are effective medications to keep the virus under control and help you stay well. But you can't get the healthcare and treatment you need if you don't know your HIV status. Not knowing you are HIV positive also makes it more likely that you could pass HIV to others.
If you test negative for HIV it's important to take steps to stay that way.
You can get a test in lots of different services:
The test used varies, but always involves a small blood sample which is then sent to a laboratory to be tested. Some services offer rapid blood-spot tests which involves a pin prick to your finger.
Once it has been confirmed that you have HIV an HIV specialist will discuss your care with you. It's important to monitor how the virus is behaving in your body and that treatment begins as soon as necessary. There is no 'cure' for HIV, but the drugs known as Anti-Retroviral Therapy (ART) are very effective in keeping the virus under control.
There have been big advances in treatment and it is now possible for many people on treatment to take just one or two pills a day. Most people taking treatment for HIV live a long and healthy life and it's important to remember that the treatment outcomes for people with HIV in the UK are among the best in the world. It is important that HIV is diagnosed early to get the right specialist care and support as soon as possible.
Just like any other STI, to protect yourself and others it is always best when having vaginal or anal sex to always use a condom. Remember, you can get free condoms in any sexual health clinic.