What Is HIV?

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is an infection that attacks the immune system, damaging it and undermining its ability to defend the body against infections and different diseases.

The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) can gradually destroy an infected person's immune system, reducing their body’s ability to fight infection and cancers. This occurs due to the reduced number of CD4 cells which defend our body against infection and disease.

As well as increasing your risk of catching other STIs, HIV can also lead to Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). This is a term which describes when a person’s immune system can no longer cope because of the damage caused by HIV. This can be fatal, resulting in the development of one or more specific illnesses or infections that the body would usually be able to combat naturally.

How is HIV Transmitted?

Body fluids are the main source of HIV infection. The body fluids that contain enough HIV to infect someone are:

  • Seminal fluid (ejaculate)
  • Vaginal fluids, including menstrual fluids
  • Breast milk
  • Blood Mucus found in the rectum
  • Pre-cum (the fluid that the penis produces for lubrication before ejaculation)

HIV cannot be transmitted in:

  • Saliva
  • Urine
  • Tears
  • Sweat
  • Faeces

The virus can be transmitted from one person who is already infected to another through sexual intercourse (vaginal, oral, or anal intercourse) or non-sexually (such as through sharing needles, infected blood transfusion, and from mothers to fetus).

HIV Symptoms in Men and Women

There are no differences in HIV symptoms for men and women. Around 60% of people first infected with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) will experience flu-like symptoms during the first few weeks. These symptoms are a sign that your immune system has noticed the virus and is putting up a fight against the new infection.

Symptoms, when they occur, will usually be noticed two to six weeks after infection. Symptoms can then last for up to four weeks.

Research has shown that an early diagnosis of HIV is important as it allows better monitoring of disease progression and more effective treatments. This means that your health can be monitored closely by an HIV specialist. Your clinician will ensure that you receive the most appropriate care for you. With correct management HIV is no longer the life-threatening illness it once was. Our sexual health testing clinics in the Middle East have HIV tests that can detect the virus from just ten days after any potential exposure.

HIV Early Symptoms

Not everyone has symptoms, but when these do occur, they commonly include:

  • A runny nose
  • Feeling unwell
  • Fever
  • Sore throat
  • Body rash

Other symptoms can include:

  • Feeling tired
  • Joint pain
  • Aching muscles
  • Swollen glands
  • Feeling sick
  • Diarrhoea

These symptoms are common to many illnesses including colds and flu, so having these symptoms does not mean that you have HIV. Therefore, the only real way to know if you have HIV is to get tested.

HIV Symptoms Over Longer Periods

After the first stage, there follows a longer period where there are fewer symptoms, which is known as the asymptomatic stage. If you have untreated HIV, then you can look and feel well for the first few years following your infection. You may however find that it takes you longer to get over colds and other infections in this time.

This phase can last 8 to 10 years without treatment. It is during this time the virus is attacking your immune system causing a drop in the CD4 count. This is when damage is done to the body.

CD4 is a protein found on the surface of a type of white blood cell (T cells). These cells play an important role in fighting off all infections. It is these CD4 cells that send a signal to other cells in the body that an infection is present and needs to be destroyed. A drop in CD4 cells means that it is harder for the body to fight off any infection, which is why being infected with the HIV virus can mean that it takes you longer to get over other illnesses.

If you are not treated, your CD4 count will drop, and your immune system will be weakened. You may begin to experience signs of other illnesses. This is likely to be a sign that you may have entered the third stage: the symptomatic stage. Common infections such as pneumonia and TB are more likely at this stage due to your weakened immune system.

Signs of these other illnesses can include:

  • Sudden weight loss
  • Night sweats
  • An increase in frequency of cold sore outbreaks
  • Swollen glands
  • Tiredness 
  • Diarrhoea

Any of these symptoms can occur in people without HIV. The only way to know is to get tested. You should take a test if you are at risk, even if you have no symptoms. An early diagnosis is important for successful treatment.


At the symptomatic stage where your immune system can no longer cope as other infections occur, you may be diagnosed with AIDS (an AIDS defining illness will occur). Most HIV positive people who take the appropriate treatment early enough, will not go on to develop AIDS.

When to Test for HIV?

The symptoms can all be caused by conditions other than HIV and do not mean you have the virus. So when should you consider testing for HIV?

If you experience all or some of these symptoms it is a good idea to get a test, especially if you have:

  • You had unprotected sexual intercourse (without a condom) with a new partner
  • A sexual partner tells you they have HIV
  • You have shared needles or injecting equipment
  • You had a tattoo or piercing without a sterile needle
  • You, or your partner, have had unprotected sexual intercourse with other partners
  • You, or your partner, have another STI
  • You, or your partner are pregnant or planning a pregnancy
  • There is any chance that an exchange of bodily fluids may have taken place with someone who is or may be HIV positive

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 and AIDS in Numbers

  • HIV positive: 37.6 million people around the world were carriers of HIV in 2020, 35.9 million of which were adults, while 1.7 million were children of ages less than 15 years old.
  • A decline in numbers: in comparison with 2010, there was a 30% decline in the number of HIV-positive individuals, with 1.5 million people acquiring HIV in 2020. 1.3 million were adults, while the remaining 160,000 were children.
  • AIDS-related deaths: there was a drop in deaths caused by AIDS by 61% since the AIDS’ global peak in 2004. About 690,000 people died from AIDS-related illnesses, compared to 1.2 million in 2010. The drop in deaths may be attributed to the increase in the numbers of people with access to antiretroviral therapy; about 73% of people with HIV have access to treatment.

HIV Testing in the Middle East

Better2Know is your trusted sexual health provider that helps you to book STI and STD tests in the Middle East.

If you are concerned about HIV, Better2Know can help you to get tested. We can arrange an appointment at a clinic near you in the UAE, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia. Book online or call our booking team on the number at the top of the page.

Better2Know provide the following HIV tests in the Middle East: