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HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. This virus attacks the body’s defence system, so affecting the body’s ability to fight infections and illnesses. A person is said to have AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) when their body can no longer fight life-threatening infections. With early diagnosis and effective treatment, most people with HIV will not go on to develop AIDS.

How you get it:  

  • Unprotected penetrative sex (anal or vaginal) 
  • Sharing contaminated needles 
  • Mother to unborn baby or through breastfeeding (This is now very rare in the UK) 
  • Receiving infected blood for medical reasons. (UK blood is screened)  
  • It's also possible contract HIV from oral sex and sharing sex toys, although the chances of this happening are very low. For example, it's estimated that you only have a 1 in 5,000 chance of getting HIV if you give unprotected oral sex to someone with the infection. 


  • Most people who are infected with HIV experience a short, flu-like illness that occurs two to six weeks after infection. After this, HIV often causes no symptoms for several years. 
  • The flu-like illness that often occurs a few weeks after HIV infection is also known as seroconversion illness. It's estimated that up to 80% of people who are infected with HIV experience this illness. 

The most common symptoms  

  • Fever (raised temperature) 
  • Sore throat   
  • Body rash 
  • Other symptoms  
  • Tiredness  
  • Joint pain 
  • Muscle pain 
  • Swollen glands 

The symptoms usually last one to two weeks, but they can last longer. They are a sign that the immune system is putting up a fight against the virus. However, all these symptoms can also be associated with other illnesses.  


  • There is no cure for HIV.  However, there are very good treatments available in the UK which can help people stay well.  

If it’s not treated:  

  • Severe illness leading to death due to AIDS 
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