What is HIV
HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus, which is a virus that can damage the body's defence system so it cannot fight off some infections. If a person with HIV goes on to get certain serious illnesses, this condition is called AIDS, which stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. There is currently no cure for HIV or AIDS, and no vaccine is available to prevent people from becoming infected with HIV. Men who have sex with men remain the group most affected in the UK, but more heterosexual men and women have been diagnosed with the virus in recent years.
Some people infected with HIV may not have any symptoms at all, while others
may experience flu-like symptoms a few days or weeks after infection.
These may include:
- swollen glands
- sore throat
- mouth or throat ulcers
- aching muscles and joints
These symptoms are sometimes called sero-conversion illnesses, which usually last
for one to two weeks and people commonly mistake the symptoms for flu or other common
illnesses. Many people are first diagnosed with HIV when their immune system has
become weakened and they become ill. To find out if the virus is present a HIV test
is necessary which involves giving a blood sample which is then checked for antibodies
to HIV. Antibodies are the bodies response to infection with a virus.
risk factors of infection from HIV include:
- recent unprotected sex with a new partner
- you or your partner has had unprotected sex with other partners
- a sexual partner tells you they have HIV
- shared drug injecting equipment
- you have another STI
HIV Tests and Testing Process
If you are worried about HIV seek advice as soon as possible. When HIV enters your
body, your body tries to fight off the infection by producing antibodies to the
virus. It can take between three weeks and three months after you have been infected
with HIV for there to be enough antibodies in your blood to show up on a HIV test.
This means if you are worried about something that happened a few days ago, it can
take three months before an HIV test can give a definite result. A test is often
recommended straightaway, even if a further test is required.
test takes place the Doctor will explain how the HIV antibody test is done and how
the results will be given to you confidentially. Testing should only be done with
your permission. If you decide to have the test, a blood sample is taken. The result
will be available the next day. The result will be given to you by the Doctor, and
if it is a negative result this means no antibodies to HIV were found in your blood.
If the result is HIV positive this means that you do have HIV antibodies in your
blood and are infected with HIV. This test is usually repeated to confirm the positive
result. The Doctor will explain what this means and what happens next.
Rapid tests can also be undertaken for HIV, which can provide results the same day.
The results of rapid tests are available in 10 to 20 minutes. The rapid HIV tests
are highly sensitive and specific, which means that if your results are negative
by rapid test it is almost definite that the condition is not present.
Once HIV is diagnosed, a number of tests monitor the stage of the infection and
indicate whether or when treatment should be started. At the moment there is no
cure for HIV or AIDS, but there are drugs available to prevent, or treat, many of
the illnesses that people with HIV are prone to. There are also treatments with
antivirals drugs - known as antiretroviral treatment or combination therapy - that
most people with HIV can benefit from, and which typically can produce definite
and major health improvements. The drugs reduce the level of HIV in the blood and
delay the development of AIDS. The drugs can have unpleasant side-effects and a
combination of different drugs may have to be taken every day.
The benefits of these drugs and other steps which when taken together, can reduce
the risk of an HIV positive woman passing the infection to her unborn child.
Other support available includes dietitians, physiotherapists, counsellors, and
a wide range of social care and peer support services from voluntary organisations.
The best form of protection is to always use a male or female condom for anal and
- make sure the condoms or lubricant do not contain the spermicide Nonoxynol
9 which can damage the latex in condoms
- for oral sex cover the penis with a condom
- avoid oral sex if the mouth or throat is inflamed or there are cuts, sores
or abrasions in the mouth or on the gums
- avoid brushing or flossing your teeth before oral sex
- avoid sharing sex toys
- if you inject drugs avoid sharing injecting equipment
- avoid a blood transfusion in any country that does not screen and treat
Complications develop when the drugs used to reduce the level of HIV in the blood are not effective, or the drugs fail, which is when the opportunistic infections increase and the body's immune system cannot fight off some of the more serious illnesses. This is called AIDS.
If you are HIV positive and pregnant you may be advised to have a Caesarean birth and not to breastfeed.
I May Have It
If you have any concerns relating to this condition, or any conditions described on this website, please contact the Sunshine Clinic
by telephone to arrange an appointment with Dr Sood,
on 0845 505 0552
or use the contact form