HIV is a virus that weakens your immune system. This will affect your body’s ability to fight off infections and diseases. If not treated with antiretroviral drugs, people with HIV eventually get AIDS. An HIV infection is easy to treat. The sooner you know that you have HIV, the better for your health.
Difference between HIV and AIDS
After infection, HIV always remains in the body. It is a virus that damages a person’s immune system and can cause AIDS if you don’t get treatment. AIDS is diagnosed when your body can no longer fight off the illnesses that wouldn’t normally be such a problem.
Risks when having sex
- You can get HIV if you have sex without a condom.
- Anal sex increases this risk. That’s why HIV is more prevalent in gay and bisexual men & boys.
- Oral sex (fellatio or cunnilingus) is a risk if you get blood or semen in your mouth.
- If your mucous membranes are damaged, because of a cut or an STI, the risk of infection is much higher.
Shortly after you've been infected with HIV, the amount of virus in your body increases. You may have flu-like symptoms such as fever, tiredness and swollen lymph nodes. You may also get diarrhoea or skin rashes. This usually happens 1-6 weeks after infection, but some people don’t notice anything. The symptoms may return later.
Testing for HIV
Having an HIV test is the only way to find out if you have been infected. That is particularly important if you run a higher risk of getting the virus. HIV is found more often among gay and bisexual men and people from certain population groups. If you are at increased risk of infection, it is advisable to get yourself testing regularly.
Have you taken risks? Or do you have symptoms that could indicate HIV? Go to your doctor or a GGD health centre.
HIV testing during pregnancy
Women are always offered an HIV test during pregnancy. That is because a pregnant woman with HIV can pass the virus on to her baby if she doesn’t get treatment. This can happen during the delivery or while breast feeding. HIV treatment prevents mothers passing HIV on to their babies.
The sooner you find out you have HIV, the sooner you can start treatment. Treatment consists of antiretroviral drugs that you must take every day. That is good for your own health and that of your partner. Successful HIV treatment drastically decreases the amount of virus in your blood. Your immune system will stay healthy and it is unlikely that you will pass HIV on to someone else.