What is HIV/ AIDS?

HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus.  It can  infect and gradually destroy an infected person's immune system, reducing their body’s ability to fight infection and cancers.

AIDS is short for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.  AIDS is not a single disease or condition. It is a term that describes the point when a person’s immune system can no longer cope because of the damage caused by HIV and they start to get one or more specific illnesses.

The Health Protection Agency estimates that around 1 in 4 of people in the UK who are Positive do not know that they have become infected.  There were over 6,000 new cases of HIV in the UK in 2013, of these over 40% were amongst heterosexual men and women.

Main Sources of Infection


The body fluids that contain enough HIV to infect someone are:

  • seminal fluid (ejaculate)
  • vaginal fluids, including menstrual fluids
  • breast milk
  • blood
  • the mucus found in the rectum
  • pre-cum (the fluid that the penis produces for lubrication before ejaculation)

Signs and Symptoms

The first symptoms can appear in the first six weeks of infection.  After this many people can have no symptoms for years.

Common symptoms of infection include:

  • unintentional weight loss
  • chronic diarrhoea
  • skin rashes, especially on your face, genitals or anus
  • an increase in herpes ulcers or thrush infections in your mouth and genitals
  • sweats, especially at night
  • unusual tiredness
  • nausea or loss of appetite
  • swollen lymph glands in the neck, groin or armpits.

These symptoms can all be caused by conditions other than HIV and do not mean you have AIDS. However, if you experience all or some of these symptoms it is a good idea to get a test, especially if you have had unprotected sex or have engaged in any other high risk activity including injecting drugs, had sex with multiple partners, have had unprotected penetrative sex with someone who is infected, have received an injection or transfusion of contaminated blood or blood products, have received a donation of semen (artificial insemination), or had skin grafts, or organ transplants taken from someone who is infected. It is also possible for a mother who is infected to pass the infection to her baby; this can occur during pregnancy, at birth and through breastfeeding.

HIV Testing

Knowing your status is always better for your long term health.  The test needs a sample of blood from your arm, or from a pin prick on your finger.

Why Test?

Treatment has become very good over the last ten years or so, and being Positive is no longer considered to be a fatal condition.

If you are Positive, avoiding testing does not make the virus go away. It does allow the virus to silently damage your health. The longer someone goes untested and untreated, the more chance that the treatment will not work as well as it would if started sooner.

Testing can save your life and protect others too. Imagine if you are Positive but did not realise it and then infected others without knowing: you can pass it on to others if you have sex without a condom, or practice any other unsafe sexual or lifestyle behaviour.

For more help and support please contact Better2Know, the Terrence Higgins Trust or your GP.