HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that damages the cells in your immune system and weakens your ability to fight everyday infections and disease. There’s currently no cure for HIV, but there are very effective drug treatments that enable most people with the virus to live a long and healthy life. With an early diagnosis and effective treatments, most people with HIV won’t develop any AIDS-related illnesses and will live a near-normal lifespan. There were 98 new diagnosis of HIV in Northern Ireland in 2016, over half of these were found in Men Who Have Sex With Men (MSM).
Symptoms of HIV
Most people experience a short, flu-like illness 2-6 weeks after HIV infection, these symptoms can last up to a month. For some people these symptoms can be so mild that it passes without notice, for others they may have to see a doctor as the symptoms can be more severe. After these symptoms disappear, HIV may not cause any symptoms for many years, although the virus continues to damage your immune system. This means many people with HIV often don’t know they’re infected. In the later stages of HIV infection you may experience weight loss, night sweats, chronic diarrhoea, skin infections, extreme fatigue and other opportunistic infections.
How is HIV passed on?
HIV is transmitted person to person most commonly by blood and/or bodily fluids (cum, pre-cum, vaginal fluids, anal mucus and breastmilk) entering your blood stream via a cut or sore. You cannot get HIV from hugging, kissing, touching, sharing baths, towels or cutlery, using the same toilets or swimming pool as a person living with HIV.
Treatment for HIV
HIV is not curable but antiretroviral medications are used to treat HIV, in the form of tablets which need to be taken every day. They work by stopping the virus replicating in the body, allowing the immune system to repair itself and preventing further damage. The goal of HIV treatment is to have an undetectable viral load. This means the level of HIV virus in your body is low enough to not be detected by a test.
Do I need to contact previous sexual partners?
If you test positive for HIV the GUM clinic will (with your permission) contact your previous sexual partners to arrange a HIV test for them, your identity will be kept confidential during this process.