What is HIV?

HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that can attack the immune system, making it difficult to fight away infections that can be anything from a cold to cancer, and it is also known as the virus that can cause acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS).

How can I contract HIV?

The most common ways to contract HIV in this generation are to either share needles for recreational drug use or to have unprotected sex with an infected person, most likely, an infected person who has not reached undetectable levels or is not undergoing antiretroviral therapy (ART).

The most typical ways of contracting HIV and it reaching your system are through bodily fluids such as blood, semen, vaginal fluids, and breast milk. The virus’s port of entry is usually either through blood linings in the mouth, or through the anus or sexual organs such as the penis and vagina. Any broken skin on the body can also be used as a port of entry.

Both men and women can spread HIV. A person with HIV can feel fine and still give the virus to others. Pregnant women with HIV also can give the virus to their babies.

You cannot contract HIV by either hugging somebody, sharing cutlery or utensils or a cup, or in public toilets/swimming pools used by a HIV+ person.

Statistics

  • An estimated 103,700 people are living with HIV in the UK. It is thought that 17% are undiagnosed and do not know about their HIV infection.
  • There were 6,151 new HIV diagnoses in 2014. Two-fifths (40%) of people diagnosed with HIV in 2014 were diagnosed late, after they should have already started treatment.
  • The two groups most affected remain gay and bisexual men and black African heterosexuals – over 70% of people diagnosed with HIV in 2014 were among these two groups.
  • 1 in 20 gay and bi-sexual men are living with HIV in the UK and 1 in 5 of this number remain undiagnosed.
  • Over 60% of people living with HIV who are undergoing antiretroviral therapy are aged between 35 and 54.
  • In 2014, 2,490 new HIV diagnoses were acquired by heterosexuals and more than half of them probably contracted the virus in the UK.

Seroconversion Illness

If you have recently contracted HIV, it is likely that you will develop seroconversion illness; this usually occurs within two to six weeks after infection and is due to the fact that your CD4 count will most likely take a noticeable leap when first contracted. You will probably experience flu like symptoms such as fever, sore throat, or rashes. After this period passes you will probably experience no other symptoms for several years.

Symptoms include:

  • Tiredness
  • Joint pain
  • Muscle pain
  • Swollen glands
  • It is thought that only 80% of HIV infected people will experience seroconversion illness.

In many cases, an HIV person will feel fine after this period of time; however, the virus will still progressively damage your immune system, which can result in more serious/complex symptoms further down the line.

Once the immune system becomes severely damaged, symptoms can include:

  • Loss of weight
  • Chronic diarrhoea
  • Night sweats
  • Skin problems
  • Recurring infections
  • Serious life-threatening illnesses (cancer, pneumonia, etc.)