HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. HIV weakens a person’s immune system, the part of our body that fights off infections. There is no cure or vaccine for HIV. There is now treatment available which help people with HIV to keep well and live healthier lives. Someone with HIV taking treatment will now live a near normal lifespan in good health.
If untreated, HIV can damage the immune system over time leaving it unable to fight off infections and leading to people becoming very unwell.
HIV is is present in the body fluids and tissues of a person living with HIV. Only blood, genital fluids (i.e. semen and vaginal fluids) and breast milk from an HIV infected person can transmit HIV.
The main ways HIV can be passed on to someone else are during vaginal or anal sex with no condoms used, by sharing any equipment used to inject drugs, and from a mother to her baby during pregnancy, birth or through breastfeeding. But there are very effective ways of preventing HIV infection in all of these situations.
HIV cannot be transmitted through normal social contact. There is no risk to your friends and family from kissing, hugging or shaking hands – or any other social contact. You cannot get HIV by being in the same place as someone with HIV, or by sharing household items such as crockery, cutlery, or bed linen. HIV is not passed on by sneezing or coughing or sharing food and drink.
Some people have no symptoms of HIV and some can remain well for many years. Others can develop a short illness within 6 weeks of infection which may involve a body rash, sore throat and high temperature. The only way for someone to know if they have HIV is to have an HIV test.
Any Sandyford clinic can offer HIV testing as part of a routine sexual health screen (link to appt section)
An HIV test involves taking a small amount of blood from you, usually from your arm.
After you have been exposed to HIV it can take a while for your body to develop HIV antibodies and this is called the ‘window period’. The window period for HIV is 12 weeks but in Greater Glasgow and Clyde some tests can detect HIV after 4 weeks. Your sexual health nurse or doctor can discuss this further with you.
You can also get an HIV test from your GP
Home testing kits are now legally available, at present only directly from manufacturers online. These allow you to test yourself at home. If the test is reactive (i.e. suggesting you may be HIV positive), it is strongly advised that you get a confirmatory test at Sandyford or your GP to check the result is accurate and ensure you receive the correct care.
If your test shows that you have HIV you will be referred to a specialist for further advice, support and treatment.
Having HIV can be a big shock but remember it is a medical condition with effective treatment which can help you stay healthy and well.
The best way to prevent the sexual transmission of HIV is to use condoms (with lubricant if you are having anal sex). Free Condoms and lubricant are available throughout Greater Glasgow and Clyde (link)
Sexual activities which do not involve penetration with a penis such as mutual masturbation or oral sex are very low risk for HIV transmission.
Some couples may choose to get tested together and if both partners test negative for HIV, agree to stop using condoms with each other. This relies on a high degree of trust and honesty. In this situation, couples are advised to have a discussion and make agreements about monogamy or sex with others.