What is HIV?

Basic HIV Information

HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. It is a virus that damages the cells in a person’s immune system and weakens the body’s ability to fight everyday infections and disease.

AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. It is the name given to describe potentially life-threatening infections and illnesses that happen when a person’s immune system has been severely damaged by HIV.

HIV is found in the bodily fluids of an infected person, notably semen, vaginal and anal fluids, blood and breast milk.

The most common way of getting HIV is through having unprotected anal or vaginal sex. Other ways of getting HIV include sharing needles or syringes and from mother to baby during pregnancy, birth or breastfeeding.

HIV cannot be transmitted through sweat, urine or saliva and you cannot get HIV from kissing, hugging, sharing food or drinking utensils, toilet seats or insect bites.

There is currently no cure for HIV but there are very effective drug treatments for HIV known as ART (Anti-Retroviral Therapy). ART involves taking daily medications and it works by reducing and then keeping the virus to an amount that is so small it cannot be quantified. This is called having an undetectable viral load and it keeps HIV at bay, meaning people living with HIV can now live long and healthy lives.

Another benefit of being on effective treatment is that a person cannot transmit HIV to another person. This is because when a person has an undetectable viral load the amount of virus is so tiny it cannot be passed on. This is known as U=U, meaning Undetectable equals Untransmittable.