Treatment for HIV has come a long way since your parent’s days. Granted, it’s still something to be wary of. But so are all sexually transmitted infections. That’s why we’ve made it our mission to educate you guys on sexual health. This article’s lesson? You guessed it. HIV and AIDS.

A young couple are standing. They are talking about HIV and AIDS.

What is HIV?

HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that attacks the body’s immune system. What’s an immune system, we hear you asking? Well, it’s something that defends our body against illness. And blood plays an important part in this. Essentially, we have millions of blood cells, of which about 1% are white. That’s important to know because a particularly important type of white cell is the T helper cell. Problem is, HIV attacks T helper cells and therefore damages the body’s ability to fight infection.

What’s more, HIV can develop into AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome). If this happens, the body won’t be able to guard against infection and disease anymore.

How do you get HIV?

‘How do you get HIV?’ is a really misunderstood question. You see, the HIV virus is found in infected blood, semen or vaginal fluid. As a result, you can only get HIV in the following ways:

  • Having unprotected sex with someone who is HIV positive. But don’t panic, you can still protect yourself from HIV infection by using condoms. Just be aware that preventing HIV and other STIs is only possible with barrier contraceptives, such as condoms. Hormonal contraceptives, such as the pill or the contraceptive patch, won’t do the trick.
  • The risk of contracting HIV through unprotected oral sex is significantly lower. But it’s still possible to transmit HIV if semen, vaginal fluid or menstrual blood come into contact with bleeding gums or mouth infections.
  • Sharing a hypodermic syringe with someone who has HIV, for example if using injection drugs like heroin, can lead to the exchange of infected blood. This might lead to HIV.
  • A mother who has HIV can pass it on to her baby while she’s pregnant, or via breastfeeding. However, if you’re HIV positive and pregnant there are ways of reducing the risk of your baby becoming infected. Speak to your doctor (GP) for more information.
  • In the past, people have been exposed to HIV after receiving contaminated blood in a transfusion. Luckily, these days this is incredibly rare since most countries test blood for HIV prior to any transfusions.

There are loads of myths out there about how HIV is spread. So many that we’ve got a whole article on myths about HIV and AIDS here. For the record, the virus can’t survive outside of the body. This means that you CANNOT catch or transmit HIV from kissing, snogging, toilet seats, sharing towels or giving blood. 

HIV AIDS symptoms

Symptoms of HIV

While some people show no symptoms of HIV infection, between 70 and 90% will exhibit some sort of signs. These might include a fever, rash and a severe sore throat. All of which tend to appear together around 10 days after infection, which is the first stage of infection, a.k.a acute HIV infection. However, someone who’s HIV positive may feel perfectly well even though the virus is still active within the body.

We wanna be very clear on this – the virus is infectious from the moment it is contracted. This means that there’s a risk of someone with HIV being unaware of their condition for some time and unwittingly exposing others to the virus. It’s also worth mentioning that chronic HIV infection is the reality of this virus – it stays with you for life.

“Around 28% of people with HIV don’t even know they’re infected,” says Gareth Davies of the Terrence Higgins Trust. “That’s why it’s very important to go and get tested if you think you may have put yourself at risk. Or if you’re starting a new sexual relationship. You can never really be too careful.

Symptoms of AIDS

The onset of AIDS is associated with a wide range of symptoms. This is because the body’s immune system has become so weak that it’s now vulnerable to all kinds of infection and conditions, so you can get a bunch of opportunistic infections. Common symptoms include fatigue, weight loss, chest and skin infections, diarrhoea, night sweats and ulcers. 

Getting an HIV test

You can get a free and confidential test at your local sexual health clinic. You’ll be happy to know that HIV tests have improved a lot in recent years. So much so that it’s now possible to reliably detect HIV roughly one month after infection (tests won’t be able to detect the virus straight away since the body needs time to show signs of the presence of HIV). A blood test is the most common method; a small sample of blood is sent off to a laboratory for analysis.

However, there are now HIV tests available that use blood spots or saliva to test for HIV. Plus, it’s also possible to take an HIV test which provides the result in just 20 minutes. It’s important to note that if you’re a sexually active gay man it is recommended that you take an HIV test at least once a year.

If you’d like to complete the test in the privacy of your own home, free self-sampling kits are available in England.

Is there a cure for HIV?

Sadly, there is currently no cure for HIV. Treatment right now focuses on slowing down, or stabilising, the progress of the HIV infection. On top of that there are also ways to manage the symptoms of any associated infection or complaint.

Treating HIV

A range of drugs and medication is available for the treatment of HIV. What’s used differs from patient to patient. Especially because the virus itself can often become resistant to certain drugs. Getting an early diagnosis and making sure you stick to the drug regime you’re given is key to making living with HIV much easier. Thanks to modern HIV medicine, many people with the virus can live a long and healthy life.

Counselling is often really beneficial in these situations. Specifically to those who lack support among family and friends. Support groups for people with HIV and AIDS can also help to put you in touch with people going through a similar experience. That way you can know that you’re not alone. Consult your GP for more information.

Reduce your risk of infection. Make sex safer by using condoms every time.

Are you Getting Some? Get Tested! Search for a sexual health clinic near you. Share your thoughts or questions about HIV and AIDS on our Discussion Boards.

Next Steps



By Nishika Melwani

Updated on 03-Jul-2022