What is HIV/AIDS?
HIV and AIDS are not the same thing. HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. HIV is a virus that attacks the immune system, which is where our body fights infection. If left untreated, HIV will damage the immune system to the point where Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) develops. AIDS is the life-threatening condition of late-stage HIV where a person’s immune system is too damaged to fight off even minor infection.
How do you become infected with HIV?
HIV is only passed on through the semen, blood, vaginal fluid, anal fluid or breast milk of a person with HIV who has a detectable viral load. This means vaginal sex, anal sex, or sharing needles can pass HIV. HIV may also be passed from pregnant person to baby while in the womb, during childbirth or breastfeeding.
There are a lot of rumours that go around about HIV, so let’s set some of those straight: You can’t tell if someone has HIV just by looking at them, you can’t get HIV by kissing or cuddling, mosquitoes don’t pass on HIV and you can’t get it by shaking hands, sharing cutlery or cups, or by eating food made by someone with HIV.
You can only get HIV through blood, semen, vaginal fluid, anal fluid or breastmilk. You can’t get HIV from saliva, sweat, or tears.
Prevention of HIV
- Condoms work really well to prevent HIV
- If you use needles for injecting, make sure they’re sterile. You can find a list of free Needle and Syringe Programs across NSW here.
- PrEP and PEP can also prevent HIV in those at highest risk of getting it. Find out more here
- Regular STI testing – every 6-12 months – is also important and part of a healthy and confident sex life
- People with HIV who have an ‘undetectable viral load’ and continue to take their treatment every day can’t pass HIV to others through sex. Undetectable = Untransmittable.
What’s the treatment for HIV?
HIV is treated with medication that you take every day. This protects your immune system, prevents AIDS, and leads to a normal life expectancy. Treatment is not a cure for HIV, but it can keep you healthy and help prevent passing it on to others. The sooner you start taking it, the better – it is for your lifetime wellness.
If you’re diagnosed with HIV, you’re not alone. Services like ACON, Positive Life, and Pozhet offer support from people who have been through it too.