What is HIV?
The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) replicates by infecting CD4 T-cells, the body’s natural defence against disease.
People can live with HIV and go many years without becoming ill or displaying any symptoms. However, if HIV goes undiagnosed and/or untreated it can cause damage to the immune system.
Over time, the body is unable to fight off infections. Some of these infections are potentially fatal and, at this stage, the condition becomes known as Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS).
Before we had successful treatment, people with HIV would normally progress to AIDS. However, today we have treatment to control the virus and this enables people with HIV to enjoy normal, healthy lives.
In Australia, an estimated 35,000 people are living with HIV. Globally, there are around 35.3 million people living with the virushivnextsteps.org.au.
See also Living with HIV.
How is HIV transmitted?
HIV must be present in large concentrations for there to be any risk of infection. When someone is not on treatment, HIV is only present in such large quantities in blood, semen, anal mucosa, vaginal fluids and breast milk. Infection can only occur when a quantity of these body fluids enters the blood stream of another person. The main ways this happens are through:
- Anal or vaginal sex without condoms
- Sharing needles/syringes
- Unsterile body piercing or tattooing
- Mother to child transmission
HIV cannot be transmitted by:
- Sharing cutlery and crockery
- Bed linen
- Toilets and showers
- Or through any form of casual contact
HIV treatment reduces the amount of virus to undetectable levels. This means that someone on treatment is far less likely to pass on HIV. In fact, current findings show that the risk of transmission is extremely low. This fact motivates many people to start treatment.
See also HIV prevention.
Treating for your health
Many experts and people with HIV believe that untreated HIV causes damage from the time you become infected. So, controlling HIV with treatment as early as possible is a good idea.
Treatment can reduce the amount of inflammation that HIV causes inside the body. Early treatment may keep you healthy for longer and may even protect you from developing health problems later on in life.
HIV treatment used to be hard to take. In the early days, there were a lot of pills and many of them caused severe side-effects.
This has all changed. Today, HIV treatment is much simpler. The side-effects are fewer, milder and usually don’t last. Most people find taking HIV treatment much easier than they thought it would be.
Taking HIV treatment is a daily commitment. For treatment to work properly, you need to commit to taking every dose every day. If you don’t, you could develop resistance to the drugs you are on.
There are many different treatment combinations. Talk to your doctor about what would suit you best.
See also Health and treatments.
For information on how HIV effects the body click here.