What is HIV?

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a virus that attacks the immune system of an infected individual. If untreated, HIV infection can result in acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). This is the term used to describe the reduced ability of the immune system to fight infections and illnesses, leading to life-threatening complications. However, people who are HIV-positive but receive treatment on time are likely to remain healthy with normal life expectancy.

Public Health England estimates that there are over 100,000 people with HIV in the UK. 92% know their status, however, around 1 in 12 people who are HIV positive in the UK do not know that they are infected, emphasising the importance of regular testing.

How can I catch HIV?

HIV can be transmitted sexually and non-sexually through the exchange of bodily fluids. These include:

  • Semen
  • Pre-cum (the fluid that the penis produces for lubrication before ejaculation)
  • Vaginal fluids, including menstrual fluids (period blood)
  • Breast milk
  • Blood
  • The mucus found in the rectum.

HIV cannot be transmitted by air, water, insect bites, saliva, tears or sweat. The virus also cannot be passed through healthy, unbroken skin.

You can find out more about HIV transmission here.

What are the symptoms and signs of HIV?

Most people do not usually have signs or symptoms of HIV infection. However, if they do, the first symptoms can appear within 2−4 weeks of infection and include flu-like illnesses, sore throat, swollen glands and rash. This is called a ‘seroconversion illness’. This soon settles down and then most people will have no symptoms until years later.

As HIV advances in the body, symptoms of a weakened immune system start to appear.

Common symptoms include:

  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Chronic diarrhoea
  • Recurrent infections, such as chest infections
  • Skin rashes, especially on the face, genitals or anus
  • Increased herpes ulcers or thrush infections on and around the mouth and genitals
  • Sweats, especially at night
  • Unusual tiredness
  • Nausea or loss of appetite
  • Swollen lymph glands in the neck, groin or armpits.

If you have these symptoms and think that you may have been at risk of HIV at any time, then it is advisable to get tested. You may have been at risk of HIV if you have had any unprotected sex with different partners, shared injecting equipment when using recreational drugs or steroids, or if you have taken a blood transfusion outside of the UK. You can find out more about HIV symptoms here.

Did you know? …

Around 1 in 12 people who are HIV positive in the UK do not know their status. The faster you start the right treatment, the higher the quality and the longer the length of life you will have.

How can HIV be tested/checked?

Knowing that you are HIV positive is much better for your long-term health because you can start treatment early. With Better2Know, a blood sample is collected from the arm using a catheter or with a finger stick using a lancet. At selected clinics, you may have access to instant testing, which would allow you to get your results after about 20 minutes. You can also get a Home Sample Collection Kit by visiting our Home STI Tests page.

What are the risks associated with HIV?

It is possible for a HIV-positive female to pass the infection to her baby; this can occur during pregnancy, at birth or through breastfeeding. In the UK, this possibility is considered as a rare occurrence because pregnant women are routinely tested for HIV and given appropriate treatment if found HIV-positive, which would prevent transmission of the virus to the foetus.

What is the treatment for HIV?

As HIV is a virus, it is very challenging to cure. However, there are effective treatments that allow most people to control the virus and prevent it from causing further harm to the immune system. Better2Know can provide you with a prescription for medication and advice on lifestyle changes to help you control the infection if you test positive.

Book your HIV test

Better2Know is the world’s leading provider of private sexual health testing services. We will arrange a clinic appointment or home testing kit quickly, and deliver fast and accurate results for your peace of mind. If you have any concerns about your sexual health, please contact us or call our friendly booking team on the number above.