About HIV

What is HIV?

HIV is an infectious disease. The letters “HIV” stand for “human immunodeficiency virus”.

You can get HIV if blood, sperm (cum) or other body fluids from a person with HIV mixes with fluids in your body. In Australia the most common way of getting HIV is from having sex with someone who has HIV, and not using a condom.

If left untreated HIV damages the body’s immune system. This means that without treatment, someone who has HIV can’t fight off infections and they get very sick, very often. The first signs of getting HIV don’t happen for several weeks. Signs can be like getting the flu – or losing energy, sweating at night, rashes, diarrhoea and losing lots of weight.

HIV is a serious condition but there is very good treatment for it now – tablets called HIV antiretrovirals. People who have HIV can have a healthy life as long as take HIV treatment tablets.

What is AIDS?

AIDS is different to HIV. AIDS stands for Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome.

Some people remember back to the 1980s and 90s when people in Australia died from AIDS. This was because HIV treatment drugs were not effective back then. People with HIV generally went on to get AIDS and many people died.

People who have HIV still can go on to get AIDS – but only if they don’t take HIV treatment tablets. Without HIV treatment tablets, HIV causes more and more damage to the immune system and the person will develop AIDS. This means they can’t fight off infection and pick up serious life-threatening conditions like pneumonia. People with AIDS get very sick, very often.

In Australia, people with HIV generally no longer get AIDS because HIV treatment tablets can be prescribed to anyone with HIV who wants to go on treatment. These tablets don’t cure HIV but if people go onto treatment tablets soon after getting HIV and keep taking the tablets, they stay well.

How do you get HIV?

In Australia the most common way of getting HIV is having sex with someone who has HIV, and not using a condom.

You can also get HIV by sharing injecting drug equipment – syringes or needles – with someone who has HIV, or by sharing tattoo or body piercing equipment.

HIV can be transmitted from mother to baby during pregnancy, childbirth, or while breastfeeding.

It can also be transmitted if the blood from a person with HIV gets directly into an open cut on another person.

In some countries, people get HIV from blood transfusions and from organ transplants. This does not happen in Australia. This is because the blood and organs used for transfusions and transplants in Australia have been tested for HIV.

You can’t get HIV from ordinary day to day contact with people who have HIV. You can shake hands, share food and cutlery, use the same soap, sit on the same toilet – and give them a kiss and hug.

How do I tell if I have HIV?

The only way to tell is to get tested.

People who get HIV don’t have any symptoms for several weeks after getting it, and then may just think they have the flu. They can then feel quite well for months or years before getting very sick.

HIV is most infectious in the few weeks after you get it. That’s why it’s so important to test regularly – especially if you haven’t always used a condom or you’ve shared injecting equipment.

What about other STIs

This website is mostly about HIV.

For more information about other STIs such as chlamydia, gonorrhoea or syphilis see the website Better to Know.