HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus)

 

What is HIV?

 

HIV is a virus (small germ). Having HIV can make it harder for your body to keep itself well. You may get sickness that your body could normally fix. Unlike most other germs (viruses, bacteria, fungi) HIV stays in your body.

 

HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus.

 

Immunodeficiency means that your immune system isn’t working properly. Your immune system is what your body uses to stay well when it is working properly. It fights off germs (called viruses, bacteria or fungi) so they can’t make you sick. 

 

What is AIDS?

 

When people have had HIV in their bodies for some years and their immune system is damaged, some will get unusual illnesses. They are said to have AIDS.

 

How do you get HIV?

 

HIV can get into your body if you:

 

HIV is only infectious in blood, cum (semen), pre-cum, anal mucus, vaginal fluids and breast milk. 

 

If you are HIV positive (meaning that you have HIV) and you have a sexually transmissible infection (STI), this can increases the levels of HIV in vaginal fluids and other bodily fluids. Having both HIV and a STI increases the risk of HIV been passed on to another person.

 

If you are HIV negative (meaning that you do not have HIV), even if you have another STI, this can cause swelling (inflammation) in the site of infection or ulcers, and this can increase the chances of picking up HIV.

 

How do I know if I have HIV?

 

If you have recently been infected with HIV you might experience what is called seroconversion illness (this is an illness that can feel like having the flu)—you should talk to your doctor or health worker.

 

You may not know you have HIV if you have not become sick or had a test. Once infected, it may be a few years before your immune system is damaged and causes health problems.

 

What happens when HIV gets into your body?

At first not much happens and most people with HIV stay well for some years. Then slowly the HIV hurts the immune system so it can’t protect you from germs very well. Then people start to get sick in different ways.

 

If you’ve had HIV for a long time without and medicines, it can start to make you feel sick. You might:

 

Testing for HIV

 

There is a simple blood test that can tell if you have HIV. Ask your doctor, nurse or Aboriginal Health Worker about it. The test is called an HIV antibody test. HIV antibodies are signs of HIV found in your blood.

 

Getting tested for HIV is your own private business. Only your doctor, nurse or Aboriginal Health Worker needs to know. They are not allowed to tell anyone else unless you say they can.

 

If your test result is negative, this may mean that you do not have HIV. If you have been sharing needles or having sex without a condom since your test, then you will need to have another test three months later to be sure.

 

Can HIV be treated?

 

There is no vaccine or cure for HIV.

 

If you have just found out that you are HIV positive, there are a few things you will need to do or think about, like:

 

Having HIV is serious, but not the end of the world. There are some medicines (treatments) you can take to control HIV. These are called anti-viral medicines. They do not get rid of HIV from your body, but they can slow it down and keep your immune system strong.

 

How can I make sure I don’t get HIV or pass HIV on to others?

 

If you are going to have anal or vaginal sex with someone, using a condom and water-based lube is the safest way not to get HIV or pass it on.

 

You can make sure you don’t get HIV or don’t pass it on by:

 

HIV and pregnant women

 

HIV can be passed on to the baby by a pregnant woman, usually around the time of the birth. All pregnant women are offered a test for HIV during their pregnancy. If HIV is found, the mother will be offered anti-HIV medicines – these will greatly reduce the risk of the baby getting HIV. With modern treatments, the risk of the baby getting HIV is very low, and many women with HIV choose to have babies.

 

Women with HIV are also advised not to breast-feed their baby as HIV can be passed on this way, too.

 

Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP)

 

If you think you may have been exposed to HIV you should consider getting PEP. If you think you may have exposed another person to HIV, let them know about PEP and where they can get it.

 

PEP is a four week course of anti-HIV drugs that may prevent HIV infection, provided the treatment is started as soon as possible after the potential exposure.

 

To be most effective, PEP should be started as soon as possible after exposure to HIV. If it is not started within 72 hours (three days) it is not likely to work.

 

To get PEP contact your local sexual health clinic or hospital emergency department. For a list of hospitals and sexual health centres and to get more information on PEP go to www.getpep.info.