What is HIV?
HIV is a virus. The letters “HIV” stand for “Human Immunodeficiency Virus”.
HIV is found in all parts of the world, including Australia. It is a relatively new virus which first entered Australia in the 1980s.
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. Most people with HIV went on to get AIDS and many people died.
Today, people with HIV in Australia generally no longer get AIDS because HIV treatment medication can be prescribed to anyone with HIV who wants to go on treatment. HIV medication doesn’t cure HIV but if taken as directed the treatment will prevent a person getting AIDS.
Without HIV medication, HIV causes more and more damage to a person’s immune system and they will develop AIDS.
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 if the mother is not taking HIV medication.
HIV can also be transmitted if the blood from a person with HIV gets directly into an open cut on another person.
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 usually have some symptoms soon after getting HIV – within days or weeks. These seem like flu symptoms. 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.