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HIV and AIDS Awareness

7 December 2009

AIDS ribbon

The issue of Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) and the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is one that the CWU continues to promote.

HIV statistics: UK summary

  • An estimated 83,000 people were living with HIV at the end of 2008.
  • Over a quarter (27%) were unaware of their infection.
  • During 2008, there were 7,298 new diagnoses of HIV in the UK.

(compiled by the Health Protection Agency, last updated November 2009)

How does HIV transmission occur?

AIDS is caused by HIV transmitted through body fluids, in particular blood, semen, vaginal secretions and breast milk. HIV can only survive in a limited range of conditions and can only enter the body through naturally moist places. It cannot penetrate unbroken skin. Prevention involves ensuring that there is a barrier to the virus, for example condoms, and that skin-piercing equipment is not contaminated.

You cannot get HIV by:

  • Casual physical contact
  • Coughing, sneezing or kissing
  • Sharing toilet and washing facilities
  • Using eating utensils or consuming food and beverages handled by someone who has HIV
  • Mosquitoes or other insect bites

What happens if you have HIV?

HIV weakens the human body's immune system, making it difficult to fight infection. Treatments exist that can prevent the onset of AIDS and although there are side effects, a person can lead a healthy, active life with a long life expectancy if they respond well to treatment. However, they can still transmit the infection to others.

Early symptoms of AIDS include:

  • Chronic fatigue
  • Diarrhoea
  • Fever
  • Mental changes such as memory loss
  • Weight loss
  • Persistent cough
  • Severe recurrent skin rashes
  • Herpes and mouth infections
  • Swelling of the lymph nodes

Opportunistic diseases such as cancers, meningitis, pneumonia and tuberculosis may also take advantage of the body's weakened immune system.

Is there a cure?

Treatments exist that can prevent the onset of AIDS and allow periods of illness to be followed by periods of remission. However, there is no cure for AIDS. Research is currently under way into vaccines, but none is viable as yet.

Getting an HIV test

An HIV test is a simple blood test, that checks whether you have antibodies to HIV in your blood. Antibodies are your body's response to a viral infection.

An HIV negative result means you do not have HIV antibodies in your blood.

An HIV positive result indicates HIV antibodies were found in your blood and you have been infected. This means that you can pass HIV on to others and should take precautions to avoid this. You may also benefit from treatments, your clinic will advise you on this.

Most tests are carried out by NHS sexual health (GUM) clinics or by your GP; the test is free. If you go to a sexual health (GUM) clinic or an HIV testing centre to take the test, the results are completely confidential and will not appear on your medical record.

If you choose to have an HIV test through your GP it will be retained on your medical record and your employers can ask to see your medical records. Also, insurance companies and mortgage lenders may ask if you have ever had an HIV-positive test result.

You should always be offered pre and post-test support. So whatever the result, you should receive help and advice from a trained professional. If you test positive you will be told about all your options, including treatment to control the effects of the virus.

National AIDS Trust

The National AIDS Trust (NAT) is the UK's leading HIV and AIDS policy development and campaigning organisation. It aims to prevent the spread of HIV, ensure people living with HIV have access to treatment and care, and eradicate HIV-related stigma and discrimination.