What is HIV?
HIV is a virus. HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. The virus uses immune cells, called CD4 or T cells, to make copies of itself. This replication process can destroy the immune cells. When too many cells are destroyed, the body can’t fight infections and diseases, which can lead to AIDS.
What is AIDS?
AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. AIDS refers to a combination of serious infections or diseases. Over time, untreated HIV can cause AIDS to develop.
In Australia, AIDS is rare. However, if you don’t find out that you have HIV or if you remain untreated for a long time (usually 8-10 years), you may be diagnosed with AIDS. Some of the AIDS illness may be reversed with treatment.
How is HIV treated?
There is no cure for HIV. However, good medications are available to prevent the virus growing. Treatment aims to strengthen the immune system by keeping the virus at such low levels in the blood it is considered undetectable.
When the virus is undetectable, it is still there but it doesn’t damage the body as much. It is also far less likely to pass on to other people.
How is HIV transmitted?
HIV lives in body fluids, like blood, genital fluids and breast milk. HIV can move from one person to another:
During sex without a condom
During birth or breastfeeding
When sharing needles (using unsterile injecting equipment)
When donated blood is not screened for HIV. Australia’s donated blood supply is very safe because it is screened
How is HIV not transmitted?
You cannot get HIV from sharing food, kissing and hugging, mosquito bites or from using the same swimming pools, showers or toilets as someone with HIV.
The virus cannot survive for very long outside of the body. If infected fluid has been exposed to the air for a while, it is unlikely that you could get HIV from it. For example, there are no known cases of people getting HIV from stepping on a used syringe or needle.
How can I prevent HIV infection?
You can avoid passing on or contracting HIV by using condoms and lube whenever you have sex.
Medication can reduce the amount of virus in your body to undetectable levels, meaning sex is safer. See more
Undetectable doesn’t mean the HIV has completely gone away – but it is in such small quantities that it is unable to be passed to anyone else. See the science here.
Use condoms and lube for the safest result.
Always use new needles and syringes.