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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
- 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