The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a retrovirus that attacks the immune system and leaves the infected person with a greater risk of contracting a serious infection or disease. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that there are 33 million sufferers of HIV worldwide, and also estimates that the virus has claimed upward of 25 million lives since the pandemic began in the early 1980’s.
HIV infects CD4 blood cells, which are responsible for fighting infections and once infected, the CD4 cells are destroyed leaving the body open to infections and diseases. In an attempt to stop the virus, the body will try to produce more CD4 cells, which will eventually be destroyed, leading to the immune system stopping.
The HIV virus is particularly prevalent in sub-Sanaran Africa and although not as widespread in the UK, it is still estimated that there are 73,000 people with the infection, with 30% of people not knowing that they have the virus.
The most common way in which the HIV virus is spread is through sexual intercourse and exchanging bodily fluids such as semen, vaginal fluids and blood. This is not the only way of contracting the virus, which can also be spread by sharing intravenous syringes and can be passed onto an unborn baby if the mother is HIV positive; however it is now possible to prevent HIV from being passed from mother to child.
The HIV virus most commonly affect gay men who have had unprotected sex, but it is now estimated that up to one in ten cases of HIV are transmitted during heterosexual sex.
Anyone who feels that they or their partners may be at risk of HIV, must go for a HIV test immediately, using a private HIV testing clinic will ensure that you get your results back within 1 – 2 days; it can take up to 2 weeks to get your HIV results back from your local GP.
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