Page modified at: 21/02/2010
HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. It is the virus that causes AIDS. A member of a group of viruses called retroviruses, HIV infects human cells and uses the energy and nutrients provided by those cells to grow and reproduce.
What is AIDS?
AIDS stands for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. It is a disease in which the body's immune system breaks down and is unable to fight off infections, known as "opportunistic infections," and other illnesses that take advantage of a weakened immune system.
Where can I find more information about HIV and AIDS?
The Net Doctor Website has excellent information about HIV and AIDS and other useful information about Sexual Health and Relationships
HIV in Wales?
As many of those who are infected do not know that they have acquired HIV, complex methods of surveillance are needed to estimate the number of people with HIV infection. Within the UK, information on HIV infections is collected from several sources. The major sources of information for Wales are:
reports from clinicians, laboratories and genito-urinary medicine (GUM) clinics of newly diagnosed infections results of screening donated blood
Survey of Prevalent HIV Infections Diagnosed (SOPHID survey). This is an annual survey of all patients seen for HIV related treatment or care.
Unlinked Anonymous Prevalence Monitoring Programme (UAPMP). This is a family of unlinked anonymous surveys which test blood samples taken for other investigations, after they have been irreversibly unlinked from any patient identifiers. All reporting methods are confidential and avoid the use of names.
The data given below is reproduced from the latest HIV New Diagnoses Quarterly Surveillance Tables.
Numbers, particularly for recent years, may rise due to the delay in receiving some reports. Data for 2008 is to the end of December 2008.
Click on the graph below to link to the National Public Health Service for Wales website for further information
New diagnoses of HIV infection in Wales: January 1981-December 2008
How is HIV spread?
HIV is usually passed from one person to another during vaginal, oral or anal sex. The route of transmission of HIV is almost always through sexual contact, although there are examples of congenital HIV via transmission from mother to an unborn child during pregnancy.
You can't get HIV... from hugging, sharing baths or towels, swimming pools, toilet seats, cups, plates or cutlery
How do I reduce the risk of catching HIV?
- Male and female condoms, when used correctly, can help protect against STIs
- Before you have sex, talk to your partner about using condoms
- Use condoms every time you have vaginal or anal sex
- If you have oral sex, use a dam
What are the Symptoms of HIV and AIDS?
The pirmary HIV infection may present as a flu-like illness or it may be silent but even if there have been no symptoms you can infect other people. After 6-12 weeks antibodies to the HIV virus are detectable in the blood. This is called being HIV Positive and often people who are HIV Positive will remain well for an average of about 9 years before they develop AIDS.
AIDS means “acquired immune deficiency syndrome” and is due to the HIV virus having killed off many of the T-helper cells which are an important part of the immune system. The HIV virus also attacks the nervous system. The symptoms are varied but include:
- weight loss.
- repeated bronchial and skin infections that do not react to normal treatment.
- swollen lymph nodes.
- small, deep ulcers often preceded by small blisters.
- night sweats.
- outbreak of previous infections that have remained dormant (herpes, toxoplasmosis, shingles and other conditions).
- 'opportunistic infections' - serious infections which can lead to a number of related illnesses such as cancer or dementia.
What happens if HIV isn't treated?
Without treatment, the HIV infection can spread to other parts of the body causing damage and long-term health problems a conditions known as Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) which can be fatal.
How can I reduce the risk of catching HIV?
Practising safer sex reduces the risk of infection with HIV. The surest way to avoid transmission of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV, is to abstain from sexual contact or to be in a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who has been tested and is known to be uninfected.
Avoiding alcohol and drug use may also help prevent transmission of syphilis because these activities may lead to risky sexual behavior. It is important that sex partners talk to each other about their HIV status and history of other STDs so that preventive action can be taken.
Transmission of an STD, including HIV cannot be prevented by washing the genitals, urinating, and/or douching after sex. Any unusual discharge, sore, or rash, particularly in the groin area, should be a signal to refrain from having sex and to see a doctor immediately.
How do I reduce the risk of passing HIV on to others?
Testing and treating (if appropriate) all sexual contacts helps to prevent the infection being passed on to others. Persons with HIV must notify their sex partners so that they also can be tested and receive treatment if necessary.
How do I get treatment for HIV?
NHS:Testing is free on the NHS from genitourinary medicine clinics, sexual health clinics, many contraception clinics, your GP and pharmacies. You can find an clinic to help with Syphylis by phoning directory enquiries and asking for genitourinary medicine, sexually transmitted disease or venereal disease or locate one using our NHS Genitourinary Medicine Clinic page in the Sexual Health Section of our website.
PRIVATE:Alternatively you can have confidential private testing based on an internet ordered home sample blood test kit. Telephone 0345 2303386 or use the Confidential Text Service 07786202070
How is AIDS treated?
The treatment of AIDS is complex and includes:
- antiviral medicines against HIV that stop the virus from spreading in the body
- specific treatment of infections occurring as a result of HIV.
- vaccination against illnesses such as flu, pneumonia, and infectious hepatitis.
- treatment of the symptoms connected with HIV infection and AIDS