12 things You Might Not Have Known About HIV
- HIV and AIDS are two different things.
HIV is a virus that affects the immune system of humans. It hijacks cells in the immune system and damages their ability to perform infection-fighting duties, therefore causing a deficiency in immune ability. This is why HIV positive people are more vulnerable to normal pathogens (like coughs and colds) and more serious ‘opportunistic’ infections. AIDS is the final stage of the disease and occurs when the immune system becomes so weak that it cannot fight off diseases that it would normally be able to.
Just because someone has HIV does not necessarily mean they have AIDS. Read more about the difference between HIV and AIDS.
- There are two different types of HIV (1 and 2).
HIV-1 is the most widespread type. It is more easily transmitted and accounts for approximately 95% of all infections, globally. HIV-2 is less transmittable and is predominantly found in West African countries. Structurally, there are genetic differences between the two.
- It began as a virus affecting monkeys and apes (probably).
It is most likely that HIV began as a virus affecting monkeys and apes in west central Africa and then jumped species to humans. A lot of people think that this jump occurred because people ate infected bushmeat (ew).
- Simply interacting with someone with HIV or AIDs will not put you at risk of infection.
Neither will hugging them or shaking their hand. Nor using the same gym equipment or toilet seat. Breathing the same air won’t either (shock, we know). HOWEVER, having unprotected sex and sharing needles will. HIV and AIDS can also be passed from mother to child during pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding. And while saliva won’t transmit the virus, eating or kissing can share it between two people if, for instance, they both have a cut or blister.
- Anyone can get HIV.
HIV does not discriminate and can affect anyone, from any walk of life. That being said, gay and bisexual men and black African men and women make up seven out of 10 people in the UK living with HIV.
- One in four gay and bisexual men have never had an HIV test, while 36% are not definite about their HIV status.
With a percentage like that, perhaps it is not surprising that over 1 in 6 people with HIV in the UK do not even realise they have the virus.
- The tests for HIV are really simple.
An HIV test usually looks for HIV antibodies, which develop 4 to 6 weeks after infection. There are multiple different types of tests now available – including a blood test, where a sample of blood is taken and sent for testing, and a self-test kit, which can be done at home. We offer a wide range of options for an HIV Test at LDC.
- HIV is not a death sentence.
Especially if you catch it early. People who are diagnosed later have around 10 times the risk of death within 1 year of HIV diagnosis than those diagnosed promptly. Because modern medications can effectively manage the virus for decades, those diagnosed with HIV in the UK can expect to lead a healthy and active life, with a normal life expectancy.
A treatment called PrEP (or Pre Exposure Prophylaxis) has also been developed, which clinical trials show to be a reliable way of preventing infection in people who are at high risk.
- An HIV positive person can have sex with ‘barrier protection’.
When used properly, condoms are very effective at protecting against HIV. Most HIV positive people have their condition so well managed that their ‘viral load’ is negligible or undetectable. This means that even if the condom breaks, it is very unlikely that HIV will be transmitted to the partner.
What to do if a condom splits? If you think you might have been exposed to HIV, it is best to see a doctor ASAP. An emergency HIV drug named PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis) can be taken, to significantly reduce the chances of developing HIV, if taken within 72 hours. However, the medication is not without side-effects, and the decision to prescribe it needs careful consideration.
10. An HIV positive mother is able to have an HIV negative child.
In the UK, there is less than a 1% chance of an HIV positive mother passing the virus onto her child, as long as the appropriate steps are taken. For example:
- During the pregnancy – If the mother’s viral load is well controlled then there is little chance of transmitting the virus to the foetus in utero
- During the delivery – C-sections are considered safer than vaginal delivery since they control the baby’s exposure to the mother’s blood.
- During breastfeeding – A HIV positive woman cannot breastfeed
LDC also offers an HIV test as part of a broader STI Test profile at all 8 of our central London locations.