x

Type your search

What is HIV?

HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. It is a virus that attacks and weakens the immune system. If it is left untreated, HIV causes so much damage that the body is no longer able to defend itself.

People who have been infected with HIV are generally referred to as being HIV positive. Although there have been many advances in treatment in recent years, and treatments are very effective in controlling the advancement of HIV, there is still no cure for HIV infection.

There are ways to prevent HIV infection, but as with many health conditions and illnesses, the sooner after infection someone is diagnosed the better their outlook. This is why we encourage people to get tested regularly. Testing is simple, quick and easy and of course completely confidential.

FAQ's

HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. It is a virus that attacks and weakens the immune system. If it is left untreated, HIV causes so much damage that the body is no longer able to defend itself.

People who have been infected with HIV are generally referred to as being HIV positive. Although there have been many advances in treatment in recent years, and treatments are very effective in controlling the advancement of HIV, there is still no cure for HIV infection.

AIDS is a term that is now being used less and less. The term more frequently used nowadays is ‘Advanced HIV disease’.

AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome and is seen by the appearance of the opportunistic infections that are a result of HIV. HIV is the virus that can lead to AIDS.

If you are diagnosed with HIV early, and respond well to treatment, you are less likely to develop AIDS.

As treatment for HIV infection becomes more effective, fewer people in the UK are now given an AIDS diagnosis.

HIV is most likely to be passed on when someone who has HIV (HIV positive) who is not on HIV treatment/medication has penetrative sex (fucks) someone who does not have HIV (HIV negative) without using a condom. This means that the person without HIV is exposed to the virus.

The cum, vaginal fluids or anal mucus of a HIV positive person (who is not on effective HIV treatment*) is more likely to have a high enough quantity of HIV (a high viral load) in it to infect the HIV negative person.

*If someone who is HIV positive is on and responds well to HIV treatment and has a fully suppressed viral load (often referred to as an undetectable viral load) and has no STIs, it is very unlikely that they can pass on HIV to another person, even if they have unprotected sex. Use of condoms, however is an effective way to prevent HIV from being passed on.

Only some body fluids contain a sufficient quantity of the virus to enable HIV infection to occur.

These body fluids are:

  • Blood and blood products
  • Cum and pre-cum
  • Discharge from STIs (such as gonorrhea)
  • Vaginal fluids
  • Anal mucus (anal mucus is a naturally occurring fluid that lines the inside of the arse)

You cannot become infected with HIV through exposure to urine (piss) or saliva (spit)

Using condoms or femidoms for anal and vaginal sex is the most effective way to prevent HIV from being passed on sexually.

Don’t share injecting equipment if you inject drugs.

Methods for reducing the likelihood of transmission if you are exposed to HIV include:

Medical preventions, such as PEPSE, PrEP (see these sections). Mucous membranes are thin tissues which protect openings in the human body. There are many mucous membranes in or on a person. They occur in places like the mouth, inside the eyelids, in the stomach and along the digestive tract. HIV can travel through the surface of a mucous membrane, enter the tiny blood vessels inside and attach itself to the mucous membrane. However, the mucous membranes that are most commonly involved in HIV transmission are in in the arse, the foreskin and head of the penis, the urethra (the tube you wee through), the mouth and the throat.With the exception of the mouth and throat, none of the mucous membranes need to be damaged to provide an effective route for HIV transmission to occur. However, damage to the mucous membranes, like a sore or a cut, does make transmission more likely. Of the four mucous membranes that can allow HIV to enter the bloodstream, the mucous membrane in the arse provides the most effective route for HIV transmission. This is because the mucous membrane in the arse is designed to absorb liquids directly into the bloodstream. It is therefore extremely efficient at absorbing HIV. Whilst a couple of studies have reported that circumcision is protective of gay men who are exclusive tops, recent studies indicate that this may not actually be the case and circumcised gay men can still catch HIV when the penis is exposed to HIV-infected fluids.

Shortly after infection with HIV most people experience some symptoms, however some do not. This is known as seroconversion illness, or primary HIV infection. It usually occurs around two to six weeks after someone has been infected.

The most commonly experienced symptoms are often described as ‘flu-like’ and can include:

  • A sore throat
  • Fever
  • Body aches
  • A rash

Other common symptoms might include:

  • Mouth ulcers
  • Joint pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Muscle pain
  • Feeling overly tired or sick.

These symptoms are only linked to infection with HIV if you have put yourself at risk (such as fucking without condoms) in the last six weeks. Because these symptoms are common to other illnesses, many people do not realise that they are a sign that they have become infected with HIV and may simply think that they are run down or have had the flu.

At Birmingham LGBT we offer HIV rapid testing which give results given in just a few minutes, and other testing options 7 days a week (See our ‘Get tested 7 Days a Week’ section.  Please call and speak to a member of the sexual health team for a test on 0121 643 0821.

  • At Birmingham LGBT Centre – Walk in sexual health clinic every Thursday 12 midday to 7.15pm (Last walk in slot at 6.30pm)
  • You may also use a free home self-sampling kit. These kits are available to people with a Birmingham or Solihull postcode and may be obtained online at umbrellahealth.co.uk or you can collect a self-sampling kit free of charge from the Birmingham LGBT centre.

A HIV test involves taking a small sample of blood which is then tested for the presence of HIV.

With our HIV rapid testing and self-sampling kits this blood sample is taken from a simple finger prick. Some clinics however may take the blood sample from a vein in your arm.

If you’ve had unprotected sex with someone who may be HIV positive, you can reduce your chances of HIV infection by taking post-exposure prophylaxis after sexual exposure (PEPSE) within 72 hours of exposure to the virus (See our section on PEPSE).

If you’ve had unprotected sex with someone who may be HIV positive within the last 72 hours, please visit Whittall Street Clinic or your nearest A&E department immediately.

We are here to support you, not to judge you.

All of our services are free and confidential

Find out about our clinics