About HIV


What is HIV?

HIV stands for the Human Immunodeficiency Virus. It is a virus which attacks the body's immune system – the body's defence against diseases. When someone is described as living with HIV, they have the HIV virus in their body. Without medication, people with HIV can develop AIDS.

What is AIDS?

AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. AIDS is not considered a disease, but a syndrome – a collection of different signs and symptoms. If someone is said to have AIDS they will have HIV and at least one of a specific list of 'AIDS-defining' diseases including: tuberculosis, pneumonia or some types of cancer. With advances in HIV treatment, many people can recover from AIDS, though they will still have HIV.

In the UK in 2012 only 390 people were diagnosed with AIDS, 0.39% of the total number of people living with HIV.

What is a CD Count and Viral Load?

CD4 count is a measure of immune function. By measuring someone's CD4 levels you can see how HIV has affected their immune system, showing the progression of the virus. Most people in the UK start treatment when their CD4 count is at 350.

Viral load measures how active HIV is in someone's body. The higher the viral load the more infectious someone would be. Effective HIV medication can keep people's CD4 count high and their viral load so low it is undetectable. However people with HIV's CD4 count and viral load can go up and down depending on their medication, whether they have another STI and their general health.

How is HIV passed on?

HIV can be passed on through infected blood, semen, vaginal fluids, rectal secretions or breast milk.

The most common ways HIV is passed on are:

  • Sex without a condom
  • Sharing infected needles, syringes or other injecting drug equipment

Is there a cure for HIV?

No, but treatment can keep the virus under control and the immune system healthy. People on HIV treatment can live a healthy, active life – although some may experience side effects from the treatment. If HIV is diagnosed late, treatment is likely to be less effective.

How can I protect myself and others from HIV infection?

Always use a condom when having vaginal or anal sex. You may also want to use a condom or dental dam during oral sex although the risk of transmission of HIV is much lower. You can get free condoms from a sexual health clinic, which you can locate at via the FPA website. Never share needles, syringes or any other injecting equipment.

I don't know anyone with HIV... do I?

Today there are more people than ever before living with HIV in the UK, but many people think they don't know anyone with HIV. But one in four people living with HIV don't know they have it, and even if someone does know they are HIV positive, they may not feel able to tell you. See HIV statistics to find out more about who is living with HIV in the UK.

Did you know?

  • A quarter of people with HIV in the UK don't know they are infected
  • One in 20 gay men in the UK are living with HIV
  • For someone diagnosed with HIV today at 35 (the average age of diagnosis in the UK) life expectancy is over 72
  • The most common treatment today for someone diagnosed with HIV early is one or two pills a day
  • Lots of people with HIV work and their HIV does not affect their working life
  • HIV is not transmitted through normal everyday contact at work, school or in social situations
  • HIV is not transmitted by biting, scratching or spitting
  • With the right medical help, 99% of HIV positive women give birth to healthy babies without passing on HIV
  • HIV affects all ages – one in four people living with HIV in the UK are over 50 and last year one in ten people diagnosed were aged 16 to 24

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