It is really important to know and understand all the facts about HIV. This will help reduce any fears and worries about living with HIV or having HIV in your family. 

What is HIV?

HIV is a virus, but unlike flu, it is a ‘blood-borne virus’, which means it can only live inside fluids within the body.

HIV stands for: Human Immunodeficiency Virus.

Immunodeficiency is when our ‘immune system’ (the way our body fights off illnesses) stops working properly, so it becomes deficient. In other words, it is lacking or not functioning as it should be.

A virus is a very small infectious unit that makes copies of itself, which can only exist inside the living cells of its host, i.e. the human.

It is important to know that HIV is not the same thing as AIDS.

AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. Acquired means getting something that you didn’t have before- so you didn’t always have it. Syndrome means a group of different illnesses. Deficiency was mentioned above, when there is a lack of something. So AIDS means a group of illnesses you get when your immune system hasn’t been working properly for a long time.

Without medication, people with the HIV virus can become very ill. Their immune system doesn’t work properly and the HIV virus keeps multiplying and taking over the healthy cells. By taking medication and looking after yourself, a person with HIV can stay well, live a normal life and may never get what is termed an AIDS defining illness. People with HIV now have an equivalent life expectancy to HIV negative people. 

Passing on HIV

You cannot get HIV from kissing, cuddling, or sharing drinks, plates or toilet seats. People living with HIV who are on effective HIV treatment and have an undetectable HIV viral load cannot transmit the virus to sexual partners. This is what we call U=U (undetectable = untransmittable), a phrase which is now widely used to raise awareness about the true facts on transmission.
For more information about U=U click here.

Below is an audio recording of a group of young people we work with sharing their thoughts on their HIV.