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There are 33 million people living with HIV worldwide and more than 80,000 cases are in the UK. One in three people with HIV go undiagnosed. The number of people that are living with HIV in all parts of the world is continuing to rise. In 2007 there were just over 4,000 people in the West Midlands living with HIV.

 

What does HIV mean?

HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. It was identified in the early 1980s, and belongs to a group of viruses called retroviruses.

 

What is HIV?

HIV prevents the body’s immune system from working properly. In a healthy body, the immune system would protect itself against an infection, but when a person has HIV it infects key cells in the body’s natural defences called CD4 cells, which manage the body’s reaction to infection. Many CD4 cells are killed by being infected, and others,including some cells that are uninfected, stop working properly.

HIV causes the weakening of the immune system which leaves the body vulnerable to serious infections that it would normally be able to fight off. These are called ‘opportunistic infections' because infectious organism realises that the body cannot fight them off and take advanatge of the weakened immune system to establish an infection.

If certain opportunistic infections develop, patients are diagnosed as having AIDS. AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. People diagnosed as having AIDS may become unwell with different illnesses, depending upon the specific opportunistic infections they develop. That is why AIDS is not classed as a disease, but a syndrome – a collection of different symptoms, all caused by the same virus, HIV.

 

How is HIV passed on?

HIV is carried in the blood, semen and vaginal fluids of infected people, and can only be passed on if these fluids get into another person’s body. HIV has been found in the saliva of some people with HIV using very sensitive laboratory equipment; it is in such small quantities that it is not infectious.

The three ways of HIV being passed from one person to another are:

  • By anal or vaginal sex without a condom.
  • Through blood-to-blood contact. This mainly happens through sharing infected drug injecting equipment.
  • From a mother to her baby. This is also called vertical transmission, and can happen during pregnancy, birth or breastfeeding.

 

What are the symptoms of HIV?

Often in the early stages of HIV there are no symptoms. Some people develop a flu-like illness within three to six weeks after exposure to the virus which may include fever, headache, tiredness, nausea and diarrhoea. These symptoms usually disappear within a week to a month and are often mistaken for another infection. The only way to find out whether you have HIV is to get tested.

How is the HIV Test done?
A HIV test requires taking blood samples. This can be done from as early as 10 days after the risky episode using an HIV PCR Test; 28 days afterwards using an HIV DUO test and 90 days afterwards using a standard HIV antibody test such as the HIV INSTI®. Further confirmatory tests may be necessary.

 

Living with HIV?

There is currently no cure for HIV or AIDS. If you are diagnosed with HIV it doesn’t mean that you are going to die as there are treatments available. Treatment consists of highly active anti-retroviral therapy (HAART), and advances continue to be made, improving both quality of life and prognosis.

Many HIV doctors now believe that provided a person with HIV receives effective anti-HIV treatment before their immune system has been severely damaged by the virus, and if they take their drugs properly and can tolerate them, they could live a more or less normal life span.

 

Source AIDSMAP.COM