HIV Facts and Information

HIV & AIDS – The Facts

Human Immunodeficiency Virus is the virus that leads to AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome).  HIV only affects humans and it is passed from one human to another.  Once a person becomes infected with HIV the virus will remain in the body for life, there is currently no cure or vaccine for HIV  

What does HIV do?

HIV has a protein on the surface of the cell that allows it to bind to CD4 cells, which are a type of white blood cell. These cells are an important part of the immune system.  Once attached to the CD4 cell HIV injects it’s genetic information into the cell.  The cell reads this information and starts to make new HIV cells.  Eventually, the CD4 cell cannot survive with all new HIV inside it.  When it dies the new HIV is released into the blood.

New HIV will infect other healthy cells of the body.  As the viruses invade more and more CD4 cells, they can no longer help defend the body against illness.  Eventually the body’s defences become weakened and because the immune system is weak, opportunistic infections can invade the body.

What is AIDS?

There are 42 opportunistic infections associated with HIV.  If a person’s immune system is so weak it cannot defend the body and they develop 5 of these 42 infections at the same, they are said to have AIDS.

How is HIV transmitted?


  • During sexual intercourse; whether heterosexual or homosexual; or intimate sexual activity, including oral sex. This is how most people have become infected.
  • By injecting drugs where needles are shared, allowing blood to be transferred from one person directly to another.
  • Through receiving infected blood and blood products.  However, in the UK there are rigorous screening process to prevent contaminated blood being passed from one person to another
  • From mother to baby. HIV can be passed from an infected mother to her baby before, during and after birth.  Babies born to infected mothers carry antibodies from the mother in their blood.  These may take between 1 and 2 years to disappear.  Only then is it possible to test accurately if the baby is HIV positive.  There is also a small risk of infection from the breast milk of an infected mother.

Risk taking behaviour may increase the possibility of a person becoming infected with HIV, e.g. unprotected sex or sharing drug injecting equipment.

HOWEVER… HIV is a very fragile virus that does not survive for long when exposed to the environment.

It cannot be spread through food or water or by sharing cups, glasses, coughing or sneezing.  There is NO DANGER of becoming infected through every day social contact.

There is no need to worry about becoming infected with HIV from things such as:

  • toilets
  • kissing and hugging
  • insect bites
  • swimming pools
  • giving blood where sterile equipment is used
Testing for HIV

It is always important to think carefully before deciding whether to have an HIV test.

Counselling should always be offered before taking the test and may be offered after receiving the result.

Blood tests for HIV are usually carried out at a GUM Clinic (Genito Urinary Medicine).

The test looks for HIV antibodies in the bloodstream.  Antibodies develop as part of the body’s natural defence against viruses and germs.  The antibodies against HIV can take around 3 months to develop and it is important to wait at least 12 weeks after possible infection in order for results to be accurate.  Sometimes the test may need to be repeated just to make sure.


There is now HIV infection in almost every country in the world.
Many young people go on holiday either abroad, or in this country to meet people and have a good time.  Sex may be part of the fun.
If you think you may have a holiday romance, take condoms with you, particularly if you are going abroad.  You may not be able to buy condoms so easily in other countries and the quality may not be as good.

The World Health Organisation states that the most effective way to prevent the sexual transmission of HIV is to abstain from sexual intercourse, or for two uninfected partners to remain mutually faithful.  Sexual relationships that do not include sexual intercourse can lessen the risk of HIV transmission.  The risk of spreading HIV through sexual intercourse can be significantly reduced by the proper and consistent use of condoms.


Check the condom has an expiry date (usually marked as the year followed by the month, e.g. 2007/04 would be expiry by the end of April in 2007).

Use the condom properly.  Practice using if you are not confident.  Make sure you never use two at the same time, if the first attempt of putting a condom on fails, do not reuse it – get another one out and start again.

Make sure the condoms are the right kind.  Novelty condoms are not designed to protect you from pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.  Do not use if the packet states, ‘Not to be used as a barrier’, or ‘For novelty use only’ etc.

0800 252534  or THE NATIONAL AIDS HELP LINE ON 0800 567 123

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