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What is it?
A virus that causes AIDS.
- This depends on the stage at which the infection is diagnosed and how soon treatment is started. There are usually no symptoms in the early stages besides a mild fever soon after infection. In fact, you can be HIV positive for many years without symptoms.
- However, over time the virus weakens the body's immune system, making it vulnerable to infections such as tuberculosis (TB), pneumonia, viruses, cancers, gut infections and thrush. The collection of illnesses caused when HIV damages the immune system is called AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome).
- Around 53,000 people in the UK are thought to be infected. The numbers rose by 20% between 2001 and 2002.
- The current cases are split roughly between gay and bisexual men and heterosexual men and women. However, in 1999 the numbers of heterosexually acquired infections exceeded those in gay and bisexual men and this trend has continued. When it comes to new infections, the biggest increase is among heterosexuals (3,801 new infections in 2003 compared to 1,735 new infections for me who have sex with men). Experts believe that 25% of all HIV infections remain undiagnosed, with half of these among heterosexual men and women.
- The human immunodeficiency virus, of which there are two types:
- HIV1 is more severe and is the type most commonly found in the UK.
- The virus (viral load) is present in the blood (including menstrual blood), semen and vaginal fluids.
- It is transmitted during unprotected penetrative sex and can also be transmitted during oral sex, although the risk is much lower.
Safer sex practices, including the wearing of lubricated, extra-strength condoms if you practise anal sex, will reduce your risk of infection.
- There is no cure but treatment can delay the breakdown of the immune system and progression to AIDS.
- An HIV test usually involves giving a blood sample to check for antibodies, which are made by the body as it attempts to control the virus. It usually takes around three months for the body to produce these antibodies once infected — this explains why an HIV test can't tell you if you've been infected in the last three months. It may take a week to get the results, but some clinics offer same-day testing.
- The best place to have an HIV test is at a GUM clinic. These clinics can provide a specialist and totally confidential service.
Combination therapy (highly active anti-retroviral therapy (HARRT)) uses five classes of drugs:
- Nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs)
- Nucleotide reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NtRTIs)
- Non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NNRTIs)
- Protease inhibitors (PIs)
- Ribonucleotide reductase inhibitors (RRIs)
Side-effects such as diarrhoea, tingling in the hands and feet and abnormal redistribution of fat (lipodystrophy) are common. Up to 14 tablets a day may need to be taken, and at specific times. Many people find the treatment regime very hard to stick to.
- Some people find that complementary therapies or a healthier diet enable them to cope better with the stress of being HIV positive and also with the side-effects of drugs.
- The support of other people living with HIV and AIDS can also be very helpful.
Increasingly good as treatments become more sophisticated and effective. However, HIV cannot be cured. There are currently clinical trials of a vaccine underway.
Page created on January 16th, 2010
Page updated on January 16th, 2010