HIV prevention and support

About HIV

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Using condoms or femidoms for anal and vaginal sex is a very effective way to prevent HIV (and other STIs) from being passed on sexually.

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About HIV

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.

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.

What is AIDS (or Advance HIV Disease)?

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

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

If you are diagnosed with HIV early, and respond well to treatment, you are far less likely to develop Advance HIV Disease (AIDS).

As treatment for HIV infection has become more and more effective, most people now living with HIV are on treatment and are able to live long and healthy lives and far fewer people in the UK are now given an Advance HIV Disease diagnosis.

How is HIV passed on during sex?

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

The cum, vaginal fluids or anal mucus of a HIV+ 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 means that they cannot 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.

What body fluids cause HIV to spread?

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).

How can HIV infection be prevented?

  • Using condoms or femidoms for anal and vaginal sex is a very effective way to prevent HIV (and other STIs) 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 and PrEP which can drastically reduce the likelihood of HIV infection in other circumstances.
  • TasP: Treatment as Prevention (TasP) is a HIV prevention intervention where treating a HIV-positive person with antiretroviral medication reduces the risk of transmission of the virus to a HIV negative partner. The primary purpose of antiretroviral treatment (ART) is to treat HIV in order to improve health and extend lifespan of a HIV+ person. TasP is a secondary benefit of ART as when adhered to correctly, ART reduces the amount of HIV to undetectable levels.
  • U=U: Undetectable equals Untransmittable: HIV and people living with a HIV diagnosis are often stigmatised or feared, and there are still many myths and misconceptions about HIV infection. The truth is that people living with HIV who have access to treatment or Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) are able to live long healthy lives, and successful treatment means that the HIV virus can be controlled and suppressed to undetectable levels, meaning that they are unable to pass on HIV to sexual partners. This is now being referred to as U=U (Undetectable equals Untransmittable). People living with HIV who are being successfully treated with ART who have an undetectable viral load in their blood have a negligible risk of sexual transmission of HIV. It may take up to six months for the viral load of someone living with HIV to become undetectable (depending on type of medications used). It requires proper adherence to ART to stay that way.

BHIVA (British HIV Association) endorses this statement.
 View this here.

It is our hope that this knowledge will help to end stigma and discrimination towards people living with HIV.

NB: An undetectable HIV viral load only prevents HIV transmission to sexual partners. Condoms also help prevent HIV transmission as well as other STIs and pregnancy. The choice of HIV prevention method may be different depending upon a person’s sexual practices, circumstances and relationships. For instance, if someone is having sex with multiple partners or in a non-monogamous relationship, they might consider using condoms to prevent other STIs.

What symptoms might I get if infected with HIV?

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 sex without condoms) in the last six weeks. Because these symptoms are common to other illnesses, many people may 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.

Where can I get a HIV test and what’s involved?

At Birmingham LGBT we offer HIV rapid testing which give results given in just a few minutes.

Please call and speak to a member of the sexual health team for a test on 0121 643 0821.

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.

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

All of our services are free and confidential

I’ve recently had unprotected sex with someone with HIV. What can I do?

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.

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.

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If you have any enquiries, questions, or if we can help in any way, we’d love to hear from you 

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