HIV is a virus that attacks the body’s immune system – the body’s defence against diseases. The latest research suggests that between 70 and 90 per cent of people may experience symptoms of infection a few days after having been infected. Three symptoms occurring together: fever, rash and a severe sore throat should always be considered a potential indicator of HIV infection. These symptoms usually disappear within two or three weeks. Other people may not have symptoms to start with. In all cases, without effective treatment the immune system will eventually become very weak and no longer be able to fight off illnesses.
Are HIV and AIDS the same?
No. When someone is described as living with HIV, they have the HIV virus in their body. A person is considered to have developed AIDS when the immune system is so weak it can no longer fight off a range of diseases with which it would normally cope.
I don’t know anyone with HIV… do I?
There are approximately 80,000 people living with HIV in the UK and about a third of these don’t know that they are infected. The epidemic is still growing in the UK with around 7,000 new diagnoses every year. Even if someone you know is living with HIV, they may not feel able to tell you.
Is there a cure for HIV?
No, but treatment can keep the virus under control and the immune system healthy. People on HIV treatment can live a healthy, active life, although they may experience side effects from the treatment. If HIV is diagnosed late, treatment may be less effective in preventing AIDS.
What’s it like living with HIV?
If people with HIV are diagnosed early and respond to treatment they can be healthy, work and have relationships like anyone else and have a long life expectancy.
Coming to terms with an HIV diagnosis and getting used to treatment can be very difficult however, and people living with HIV will often need support from healthcare providers, friends and family, employers and support organisations.
Why do people find it hard to tell others they are HIV positive?
People living with HIV may find it hard to tell others about their condition as they worry that people will reject them, or they will experience prejudice from friends, family and colleagues. People living with HIV can also experience discrimination in their workplace, in healthcare settings (e.g., GPs and dentists), from members of their local community and through the media.
HIV prejudice is often the result of ignorance about how HIV is passed on and unfounded fear of becoming infected. Encouraging those around us to talk about HIV and find out the facts can help overcome this.