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Human immunodeficiency virus can affect anyone, here is what you need to know to protect yourself and others.

What is it?

HIV stands for the Human Immunodeficiency Virus, which is a virus that affects the immune system. HIV is the virus that causes AIDS but having HIV is not the same as having AIDS.

How do you get it?

You can only get HIV from someone who has the virus — by certain bodily fluids containing enough HIV entering the blood stream. HIV is only present in blood, semen, pre-cum, anal mucous (the fluid in your anus), vaginal fluids and breast milk. The most common way HIV is transmitted in Australia is through anal sex when protection isn’t used.

HIV can also spread through sharing injecting or tattooing equipment, as well as from mother to child during pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding.

What are the symptoms?

Some people don’t have symptoms when they get HIV, which means you can have HIV and not know about it. If you do get symptoms, they can appear around two to four weeks after exposure.

Common symptoms may include:

  • Fever
  • Rash
  • Sore throat
  • Swollen glands
  • Rapid weight loss
  • A continuous dry cough
  • Decreased appetite
  • Extreme or constant tiredness
  • Diarrhoea
  • A cold without a runny nose

When someone experiences symptoms after getting HIV they have what is known as seroconversion illness, which is when their body is reacting to the infection.

Diagnosis and treatment

A doctor diagnoses HIV by taking a blood sample and sending it to a laboratory for testing. There are home testing kits and rapid tests you can use for detecting HIV. However, any of these tests will need to be confirmed by a blood test if the result comes back reactive.  

There is no cure for HIV. Treatment involves using antiretroviral medication taken daily. For people living with HIV who use treatment, life expectancy is roughly the same as someone without HIV.

When HIV is left untreated it can result in a compromised immune system which will make you feel very sick and you can catch diseases, such as the common cold more easily. 

How do you prevent it?

There are more ways to prevent HIV than ever before. Options include: