HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus which damages the cells in your immune system and weakens your ability to fight everyday infections and disease.

AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) is when your immune system has been severely damaged by the HIV virus. It’s a potentially life-threating infection

About HIV and AIDS

The HIV virus can be transmitted from one person to another. However, AIDS cannot.

Sadly, there is no cure for HIV but there are effective drug treatments that allow most people to live a long and healthy life.

Early diagnosis and treatment mean more people than ever with HIV will not develop AIDS related illnesses.

Signs and Symptoms

The majority of people will experience a short flu-like illness 2 to 6 weeks after HIV infection.

After this, HIV may not cause any symptoms for many years, although it will continue to damage your immune system.

Many people with HIV do not know they are infected.

How is it Transmitted?

The most common way of getting HIV in the UK is through having anal or vaginal sex without a condom.

HIV is found in the body fluids of an infected person. This includes semen, vaginal and anal fluids, blood and breast milk.

Other ways of getting HIV include:

  • Sharing needles, syringes or other injecting equipment
  • Transmission from mother to baby during pregnancy, birth or breastfeeding

How to Get Tested

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Anyone who has sex without a condom or shares needles is at risk of HIV infection.

To prevent or reduce the risk of HIV:

  • Use a condom during sex
  • If you use drugs, never share needles or other injecting equipment
  • Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) is a drug which can be used after exposure to avoid infection. To work, PEP must be taken within 72 hours (three days), and ideally should be taken within 24 hours.
  • Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is a drug which can be used to avoid infection if you feel you may become exposed


Antiretroviral medicines are used to treat HIV. They work by stopping the virus replicating in the body, allowing the immune system to repair itself and prevent further damage.

Most people with HIV take a combination of medicines every day in the form of tablets.

The goal of this treatment is to have an undetectable viral load. This means the level of HIV virus in your body is low enough to not be detected by a test.


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Contacting a sexual health service for the first time can be a little daunting, so here are some easy answers to many of the questions you may have.

How is HIV diagnosed?

You can take an HIV test at home simply by clicking here. People who are at particularly high risk of becoming infected with HIV may be advised to have regular tests.

When should I get tested?

Seek medical advice immediately if you think there’s a chance you could have been exposed to HIV. Anti-HIV medicine called post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) may stop you becoming infected if taken within 72 hours of being exposed.

In what other way will HIV affect me?
  • You will not be able to donate blood or organs
  • You may not be able to join the armed forces
  • There are some countries you will not be able to visit