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Frequently asked questions about HIV/AIDS

WebMD Medical Reference
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

Around 103,700 people are living with HIV in the UK.

We answer frequently asked questions about HIV and AIDS.

What do the initials HIV stand for?

HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. Without treatment, this virus can develop into AIDS - acquired immune deficiency syndrome.

How do people get infected with HIV?

HIV can pass from person-to-person through infected blood, semen, vaginal fluid, rectal secretions or from a mum to a baby, including though breast milk, pregnancy and birth.

In 9 out of 10 cases, transmission is through having sex. Other risks include drug addicts sharing needles or health workers getting a cut through protective gloves during operations and procedures.

Can I get HIV from kissing?

HIV isn’t passed on through saliva. There are many myths about ways of getting HIV. The health group HIV Aware lists other ways HIV isn’t passed on, including spitting, urine, poo, bites and scratches.

Can using condoms prevent HIV?

Using a condom fitted correctly during vaginal or anal sex helps protect against HIV.

Can I get HIV from oral sex?

Yes, but the risk is lower than it is for vaginal or anal sex. The risk is lower still if ejaculation in the mouth is avoided.

It is best to avoid giving oral sex if there are cuts or sores in the mouth, or mouth ulcers.

Dental dams or latex barriers are available to give protection during oral sex.

Why are all pregnant women in the UK offered an HIV test?

Confidential HIV tests are a routine part of antenatal care. Once treatment for HIV is started, the risks of passing it on are reduced. Extra care will be taken during pregnancy if the mum to be is HIV positive. Once the baby is born, he or she will be tested for HIV and again at regular intervals until they are 2 years old. Breastfeeding will be discouraged.

Will everyone with HIV develop AIDS?

With modern antiretroviral treatments, most people with HIV in the UK will not go on to develop AIDS.

How can I tell if I’m infected with HIV?

The only sure way to find out is an HIV test, as not everyone will have any symptoms of HIV. Sometimes it can take years for signs of HIV to appear.

What are the symptoms of HIV?

There may be some symptoms soon after being infected with HIV, including fever, aching, red blotchy rash, headache, diarrhoea and mouth ulcers.

However, HIV may be damaging the body's immune system for some time before it is diagnosed. This can make it easier to get other harmful infections.

What HIV screening tests are available?

NHS HIV tests through a GP, sexual health clinic or hospital are free and confidential. Home test kits are also available.

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