What is HIV?

HIV is a virus that spreads from one person to another through bodily fluids such as blood, semen and breast milk.

  • The virus attacks the body's immune system and over time this damage to the immune system makes it harder and harder for the body to fight off infections and some other diseases.
  • If you do not get treated, you can get very ill and even die, and you may pass on the virus to other people, particularly if you have sex without a condom.
  • No cure exists for HIV. However, you can manage the disease by receiving regular medication which can improve your health and reduce the risk of passing on the virus.
  • The aim of the medication called antiretroviral therapy (ART) is to make the level of HIV in the blood so low that it can't be detected by the tests used to measure it. When the virus is undetectable, you cannot pass it on and HIV is not able to damage your immune system.
  • People who take ART regularly can now live almost as long as people without HIV.

HIV is a global problem. Those at particularly high risk of HIV infection are:

  • men who have sex with men
  • people of Black African ethnic origin
  • people who share needles, syringes or other injecting equipment

In the UK, HIV is more common in people who have lived in countries where there is a high level of HIV such as sub-Saharan Africa.

There are many effective ways to prevent or reduce the risk of HIV infection. Speak to your local sexual health clinic or GP for further advice about the best way to decrease your risk. Further information about the signs, symptoms, treatment and prevention.