HIV is a virus (germ). HIV can damage your immune system. This means your body cannot fight germs and other diseases such as a cold or flu. If left untreated HIV can cause AIDS.
HIV is not AIDS. When people have HIV and do not get treatment, their immune system will become weak and their body will be more likely to get other illnesses. Once HIV has gone this far it is called AIDS. Taking treatment can stop you from getting AIDS.
Anyone can get HIV. HIV is passed on through contact with blood, semen (cum), pre-cum, vaginal fluids, anal (bum) fluids, and breast milk. HIV can be passed on from vaginal (front-hole), anal (bum) sex, sharing needles and other injecting equipment and breast feeding from mother to baby or through pregnancy.
It is not likely but occasionally it can also get passed on by sharing razors and other cutting, piercing or tattooing equipment and getting body fluids that can pass on HIV in cuts or in your mouth.
You cannot get HIV from things such as saliva, kissing and hugging, sharing cups or forks, toilet seats or towels, mosquitoes or sweat.
If you have recently been infected with HIV you might experience what is called seroconversion illness (this is an illness that can feel like having the flu)—you should talk to your doctor or health care worker.
Not everyone gets a seroconversion illness and not everyone will know they have HIV so you may not know you have HIV if you have not become sick or had a test. The only way to know is to have a HIV test.
What happens when HIV gets into your body?
There is often no sign (symptoms) that you have HIV, and many people with HIV feel well for years.
But HIV slowly damages the immune system so it cannot protect you from other illnesses. You can also pass on HIV to others more easily during this time because there is a lot of HIV in your body.
If you do not take treatments, after a while you will begin to get very sick. You may also get sick from illnesses your body would normally be able to fight off. Treatments can help you stay strong and stop HIV making you sick. Taking HIV treatments properly also means you can reduce the amount of HIV in your body so you cannot pass it on to other people through sex.
If you are sexually active or have shared needles or other injecting equipment, then it is recommended you get tested regularly. It is a good idea to get tested more frequently but you should get tested at least once a year. Some people are recommended to get tested more frequently, such as every 3 months for men, including trans men, who have sex with other men.
If your test results are negative, it may mean HIV has not shown in your blood. This could be because you do not have HIV, but it could also mean you are in the window period. The window period means HIV may still be in your blood, but it is too early to show up in a test. After a risk for HIV it can take up 6 weeks. If you have had a test within this time you will need to take another test after the window period.
Your test is confidential only your doctor, nurse, or Aboriginal Health Worker needs to know. They are not allowed to tell anyone unless you give them permission.
All Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are eligible for an annual health check, called a 715 Health Check. Tests for HIV and other STIs can be part of this. These 715 Health Checks are free at Aboriginal Medical Services and bulk billing clinics.
For more information on testing check out the HIV testing factsheet here.
There is no vaccine or cure for HIV although antiretroviral treatment can get the HIV in your blood to undetectable levels.
Undetectable means if you are on HIV medication long enough you can get the HIV in your blood to undetectable levels when tested and cannot pass on HIV to your sexual partner(s).
Having HIV is serious, but not the end of the world. If you do nothing you can get very unwell from HIV. But if you are on treatment, you can take control of HIV and be well.
Use condoms and lube for sex
If you are going to have vaginal (front hole) or anal (bum) sex with someone, using a condom and lube, using lube can stop condoms from breaking and can feel good. Help protect you and your sexual partner(s).
Take PEP after a risk of HIV
If you forget to use a condom or the condom breaks, or if you share injecting equipment, you can get PEP (Post-Exposure Prophylaxis).
After a HIV risk you take PEP medications for one month to prevent HIV. It is important that you start PEP within 72 hours after a risk, although it is better if you can start within 24 hours. You can get PEP from Emergency Departments of most public hospitals or at sexual health clinics, some Primary Health Care Centres in regional and remote areas, and some other doctors. You can find more information by visiting www.getpep.info
If you have HIV take treatment for HIV
If you have HIV, taking treatment keeps you well. By taking HIV treatment it can reduce the amount of HIV in your body to a level that is undetectable (so low that tests cannot find it). This means you cannot pass G+HIV on to someone eels. This is called ‘Treatment as Prevention’. This is also known as ‘Undetectable = Untransmittable’ or ‘U=U’.
If you are HIV-negative, you can take PrEP
PrEP stands for Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis. It is a medication that HIV-negative people can take to prevent HIV. Taking PrEP before being exposed to HIV means there is enough medicine in your body to stop HIV if it gets into your body. PrEP protects you from HIV, but it does not prevent you from other STIs, or pregnancy.
Always use new gear when injecting
Use new gear (needle, syringe, and other injecting equipment) every time if you inject drugs. Used injecting equipment contain small amounts of blood. Even a small amount of blood can carry HIV.
Make sure you return used injecting equipment to a Needle and Syringe Program (NSP) or throw them away safely inside something hard, like a plastic bottle with a lid, so other people do not get hurt by them.
Do not share anything that could have had blood on it
Do NOT share anything that could have had blood on it including knives, razor blades or needles.
If you are pregnant, talk to your doctor or health worker about what you need to do. Women with HIV can have healthy babies without HIV. You can pass HIV on from mother to baby through breast feeding - if you have HIV talk to your doctor about options.
HIV positive women who are pregnant should start treatment early. This will keep the baby safe from HIV. If you have HIV and are planning to get pregnant, see your doctor. There are a few things you can do to protect your baby from HIV, including taking treatments. Pregnant women who take HIV treatments regularly almost always have babies that do not have HIV. Your actions will make a big difference to whether or not your baby has HIV.
If you find out you are pregnant, see your doctor as soon as you can!