The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a virus that attacks the body’s immune system. HIV is mainly spread through sexual contact making it one of the most worrying Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs). Fortunately, HIV treatments if taken early, are very effective and you are likely to remain healthy with a normal life expectancy. If HIV is left untreated this can lead to Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), where the immune system is less able to fight off infections and illnesses. This can be life-threatening. Most people who develop AIDS will ultimately die of this disease. As most people who are HIV positive do not know they have been infected it is important to regularly test for HIV.

How common is HIV?

Around the world, over 38 million people are living with HIV. Since this disease first emerged, it is estimated that over 40 million individuals have died of AIDS.

How can I catch HIV?

HIV is passed from one person to another through the sexual or non-sexual exchange of bodily fluids. Bodily fluids that can spread HIV include:

  • Semen

  • Pre-cum

  • Vaginal fluids including period blood

  • Breast milk

  • Blood

  • Anal mucus

Unprotected sex including vaginal, anal, or oral contact can transfer the virus from one person to another. Although oral transmission of HIV is rare, if you have engaged in oral sex with an individual who is at risk of carrying the HIV virus you should get tested right away.

Can I catch HIV without being sexually active?

The virus can be passed from one person to another sexually or non-sexually. HIV can be spread through non-sexual contact including:

  • Sharing needles

  • Injecting recreational drugs

  • Mother-to-child interactions

  • Blood transfusions (extremely rare as most countries screen for HIV)

  • Healthcare workers

  • Tattoos or piercings

  • Needle stick injuries

  • Organ or skin transplants

  • Donor sperm for fertility treatments

HIV cannot be caught through the air, water, insect bites, tears, faeces, urine, saliva, or sweat. You cannot catch HIV through healthy unbroken skin.

What are the signs and symptoms of HIV?

In the early stages of an HIV infection, some people will not experience symptoms. Early symptoms of an HIV infection are normally seen 4–6 weeks after infection. These include fatigue, fever, swollen glands, rashes, muscle aches, and a sore throat. The symptoms are caused by the ‘seroconversion process’ where your body tries to fight the virus by producing antibodies.

After this early stage, symptoms may disappear for as long as 10-15 years. However, even in the absence of symptoms the virus is still active and harming your immune system. If the HIV infection continues to be untreated then you are more likely to catch other infections.

As time goes on the common HIV symptoms include:

  • Unintentional weight loss

  • Repeat episodes of diarrhoea

  • Repeat infections particularly in the chest

  • Rashes, especially on the face, anus, or genitals

  • Frequent Herpes (virus) ulcers (sores) or thrush infections around the mouth or genitals

  • Night sweats

  • Unusual tiredness

  • Nausea

  • Lack of appetite

  • Swollen lymph glands in the neck, groin, or armpits

Since these symptoms are not unique to HIV the only way to be sure you have HIV is to get tested.

When should I get tested for HIV?

Taking an HIV test can help you take control of your sexual health and provide you with peace of mind. It is recommended that you take a test if you have symptoms of HIV and think you may have been at risk of infection at any time. You may wish to be tested for HIV if you have unprotected sex with different partners or have shared needles when injecting recreational drugs or steroids. You should wait for at least 10 days after a suspected infection to test for HIV. Before starting a new sexual encounter, you may wish to test for HIV since this infection can often go unnoticed for some time. If you are pregnant or planning to start a family, you may wish to test for HIV to prevent infecting your baby.

You may need to take an HIV test and provide a certificate to prove your HIV status for some visas or jobs. Better2Know can help you with this. Please request an HIV certificate when you book your test.

If your exposure to an HIV infection is high, it is suggested that you repeat this test 4 to 6 weeks later after the initial test.

How do I get tested for HIV?

Knowing that you are HIV positive is better for your long-term health because you can start treatment early. You should wait for 10 days after a suspected HIV infection to take an HIV test. An HIV test will require a blood sample taken from the arm or finger. At Better2Know we offer different types of HIV tests:

  • HIV RNA laboratory test – if the potential encounter has occurred more than 10 days ago

  • Instant HIV test – if the potential encounter has occurred more than 26 days ago

  • HIV Duo laboratory test – if the potential encounter has occurred more than 28 days ago

If you have had unprotected sex in the past 72 hours, you may be able to take a type of antiviral medication every day for a month to stop you from getting HIV. Contact Better2Know right away or go to your local hospital emergency department and ask them to prescribe you with PEP (Post Exposure Prophylaxis).

Take responsibility for your sexual health with Better2Know. Testing with Better2Know is easy, fast, and pain-free. You can book a test today with Better2Know by calling our Sexual Health Advisory team on the number above or online by clicking the Get Started button.

What are the risks if HIV is left untreated?

If HIV is left untreated, the number of a type of immune cell called CD4 cells decreases. CD4 cells are essential for fighting infections and other illnesses. By decreasing the number of CD 4 cells, HIV increases your risk of infection and other illnesses. Eventually, if HIV remains untreated it will progress to AIDS which will be fatal.

How can HIV affect a pregnant person and their baby?

A pregnant woman who is HIV-positive can pass the infection to her baby during pregnancy, birth, or breastfeeding. Pregnant women are routinely screened for HIV in some countries and if found HIV positive, treated with medicine. If your HIV is controlled by medication the risk of your baby being infected with HIV is very low.

What do I do if I test positive for HIV?

Early detection and treatment of HIV are very important to protect your health. If treated correctly, HIV is no longer life-threatening. HIV medication can help control the virus and prevent further damage to your immune system.

If you test positive for HIV, you should consult an HIV doctor who will test your CD4 cell and virus levels. Your doctor will use the results from these tests to prescribe suitable medications for you. You will have regular appointments and blood tests to check your medications are working. If you would like Better2Know to arrange a private doctor’s appointment for you, please phone the number at the top of the page.

There are many organisations, groups, apps, and webpages that can help you to manage your HIV and your mental health, and lifestyle. Better2Know is here to provide you with testing, information, guidance and support. We have medical experts who specialise in HIV, and can help you manage this infection.

If you receive a positive test result you should notify recent sexual partners. This limits the spread of HIV and allows them to have earlier treatment if they are infected. Better2Know offers all our patients access to a free-of-charge Partner Notification tool, which allows you to inform all past partners anonymously, of any positive test results.

How is HIV treated?

HIV does not have a cure. However, HIV is no longer life-threatening if it is detected early and effectively managed by an HIV doctor. People with HIV who take their treatment will remain healthy and should have a normal life expectancy. HIV is treated with a medicine called highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) and lifestyle changes.

If you have had unprotected sex in the past 72 hours, you may be able to take a type of antiviral medication (PEP) every day for a month to stop you from getting HIV. Some people who may be regularly exposed to the HIV virus, take an anti-viral medication every day under a programme called PREP (Pre Exposure Prophylaxis). This has been demonstrated to provide long-term protection against catching an HIV infection. Contact Better2Know if you need more information about this.

Can HIV come back?

HIV does not have a cure and the virus will stay in your body for life. HAART medication can lower the viral load (virus levels) to the point where the HIV virus is no longer detectable. Treating HIV means you will be able to remain healthy and should have a normal life expectancy.

It is recommended to practice safe sex, using a condom, to avoid catching another strain of HIV and/ or ask sexual partners to take an HIV test.

When can I have sex again after being treated for HIV?

Condoms are the safest way to ensure you do not catch a different strain of HIV from your partner or pass HIV on to them. These should be worn whilst participating in vaginal, anal, or oral sex.

Your viral load will be monitored throughout the year to check how active the virus is. HAART can take up to 6 months to lower the viral load to the point where it can no longer be detectable. However, some people will never reach an undetectable viral load and should practice safe sex. Once the viral load is undetectable you can have unprotected sex but should always carefully monitor your viral load and be certain to never miss any doses of your medication. If you wish to have unprotected sex, you should ensure your partner does not have HIV as you can still be infected with a different strain of the virus.

How do I book an HIV test?

Better2Know is the world’s leading provider of private sexual health testing services. We provide you with fast and accurate testing to give you peace of mind.

You can book an HIV test today with Better2Know by calling our Sexual Health Advisory team on the number above. Our expert Patient Services staff will help you select the right test and book any follow-up appointments if requested. If you prefer to book your test online, you can do so by clicking the Get Started button above.

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