What is World AIDS Day?
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World AIDS Day

Ever wondered why you see red ribbons everywhere in early December? Well, it’s because of World AIDS Day. World AIDS Day takes place on the 1st of December each year and is all about showing support for people living with HIV, raising awareness about HIV prevention, testing and treatment, working to eliminate stigma and discrimination around HIV and remembering those who have died of AIDS-related illnesses.

 How can you get involved in World AIDS Day?

Understanding HIV and AIDS

HIV and AIDS are often mixed up or used interchangeably but there’s more to it than that.

HIV & AIDS: What’s the difference?

HIV is a virus that attacks the immune system. The immune system is responsible for defending the body against infections and diseases. There is no cure for HIV, but, with the correct medication and treatment, it can be managed. If left untreated, HIV can progress and weaken the immune system over time, which can lead to AIDS.

AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome  and is the advanced stage of HIV infection. It happens when the immune system becomes severely damaged and the body has trouble fighting off infections and diseases that it normally wouldn’t have any trouble with.

It’s important to know that not everyone with HIV ends up with AIDS, especially if they can be diagnosed early and start treatment right away.

HIV Symptoms

HIV affects everyone differently. Some people might have flu-like symptoms a few weeks after being infected with HIV, others may feel totally fine for years.

Experiencing symptoms after being infected with HIV is often referred to as seroconversion illness and may cause one or more of the following symptoms.

  • Fever.
  • Feeling tired
  • Sore muscles and achy joints
  • Skin rashes
  • Stomach issues such as nausea, vomiting, or diarrhoea.
  • Sore throat and cough.
  • Night sweats.

Whilst these can be the first signs of HIV, they are very common symptoms that could be a hundred different things, including a bad cold or flu. So, instead of Googling it and convincing yourself that you have HIV, head to your local doctor or sexual health clinic and ask them for an HIV and STI test. It’s quick, easy and free if you visit a bulk-billing doctor.

Who is at risk?

HIV can affect anyone – it doesn’t discriminate. This virus doesn’t care about your age, gender, or who you are. But in Australia, some people are at a higher risk, including:

  • Men who have sex with men (anal sex has a higher rate of HIV transmission than other kinds of sex)
  • People who inject drugs or share needles
  • People who use unsterilised tattoo or piercing equipment
  • People who have sex with the above groups

Preventing HIV

For more information on PrEP and PEP, head to the Ending HIV website.

Consistent condom use

Using condoms consistently and correctly is one of the best ways to reduce the risk of all STIs, including HIV. Make sure to have a stash of condoms handy for those ???? moments and always check the expiry date before you put it on.

How is HIV spread?

HIV can be spread from someone who has HIV through semen, blood, vaginal fluids, and breast milk.

Having unprotected sex
Having unprotected sex with someone who has HIV and is not currently on treatment is the most common way that HIV is spread in Australia and can happen no matter what kind of sex you’re having. That’s why it’s important to always use condoms or when having sex.

From mum to bub
If a pregnant person has HIV, there’s a chance they could pass it on to their baby during pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding. People can take measures to eliminate this risk.

Sharing needles
In this instance, sharing isn’t caring. Sharing needles can lead to a range of different infections, including HIV. This applies to needles that are used for tattoos and piercings or to inject legal or illegal drugs. Whether you’re using needles to inject drugs (legal or illegal) or even just using your mate’s at-home tattoo kit, it’s important that you never share injecting equipment and use a new, sterile needle every time. You can get free needles, syringes and injecting equipment at your local Needle and Syringe Programs (NSP).

Let’s set the record straight…

  • You cannot tell if someone has HIV just by looking at them
  • You cannot get HIV through kissing or cuddling someone with HIV
  • You cannot get HIV by shaking hands with someone with HIV
  • You cannot get HIV by sharing cutlery or food with someone with HIV
  • There are no reported cases of mosquitoes transmitting

Regular testing

Getting tested for STIs including HIV regularly (every 6-12 months) is important because it means that if you do have an STI, you can get started on treatment as soon as possible and take steps to ensure that you’re not passing it on to others. Testing for STIs, including HIV in Australia is quick, confidential and often free.

There are also new HIV self-test kits available to purchase from pharmacies but we recommend going to the GP for a full screen.

Keep in mind that the time between when you were exposed to HIV and when the test can reliably detect HIV can be up to 3 months. So, even if you test negative within that window, it’s a good idea to re-test after those 3 months too.

HIV testing and early detection

Getting tested for HIV is quick, confidential and often free.

Early detection of HIV is super important because it helps kickstart treatment quickly, reducing the risk of problems and spreading the virus. Having an HIV test involves collecting a blood sample, whether it’s through a traditional needle or a finger prick.

Living in regional NSW? Getting tested is easier than you might think, learn more about HIV testing in regional NSW.

Want to know more about HIV self-tests? Discover all you need to know in this HIV self-test guide.

Undetectable = Untransmissable (U=U)

Treatment for HIV has come a long way. If someone is on treatment they will have an undetectable viral load. It means the amount of HIV virus in their blood is so low that it can’t be measured (detected). Research shows that when the HIV virus is undetectable, it’s also untransmissable, meaning that it can’t be passed on to others. So, if you or someone you know has HIV, but through proper care and treatment has an undetectable viral load, the risk of transmission is pretty much zero.

Living with HIV

HIV is now considered a manageable condition, and people living with HIV can live a long, happy and healthy life if they are on treatment. This is all thanks to a LOT of advocacy and research, which has led to better treatment options like antiretroviral therapy (ART). ART is a daily medication that helps to control the HIV virus, safeguarding your immune system, and preventing the progression of HIV to AIDS.

If you’re living with HIV, practising safe sex and looking after your health is really important. Use condoms consistently, communicate openly with your partner about your HIV status, and work with a medical professional for treatment to suppress the virus. Regular testing for both you and your partner is essential to stay informed and prevent transmission. If your partner is HIV-negative, consider talking about pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) as an added layer of protection. Avoid sharing needles and seek guidance from healthcare professionals and support groups. These measures can help you enjoy an active sex life while minimising the risk of transmission.

What is ART?

Antiretroviral Therapy, or ART, is a medical treatment used to manage HIV. It works by using a combination of medicines to target the virus in different ways. This remarkable treatment does a few things:

Suppresses the virus: ART helps lower the amount of HIV in your body, sometimes to undetectable levels. This means the virus is hardly there, and you’re less likely to get sick.

Boosts your immune system: By controlling the virus, ART protects your immune system, so it stays strong and healthy.

Prevents AIDS: One of its most important jobs is to prevent HIV from turning into AIDS. AIDS is the advanced stage of HIV infection when the immune system is severely damaged. ART helps stop you from getting there.

Reduces transmission: When you take ART and reach an undetectable viral load, it’s incredibly unlikely that you would pass it on to others.

Resources and support

Sexual health doesn’t have to be complicated. Healthy sexual practices include practising safe sex, seeking consent and communicating openly with your partners. Regular testing for HIV and STIs is essential, especially if you’ve had unprotected sex, changed partners or noticed any symptoms.

If you or someone you know is living with HIV, there are many resources available for support and information. Local healthcare providers, clinics, and organisations can offer guidance on treatment, prevention, and emotional support. Or if you have a question you can always ask our own sexual health nurse Nurse Nettie.