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WHAT IS HIV?
HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is a condition that can cause AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). HIV and AIDS are not the same thing.
Left untreated, HIV attacks the body’s immune system and make the body vulnerable to infections and medical conditions that a person not living with HIV immune system would be normally capable of controlling. People who have acquired HIV can experience flu like symptoms, but others do not notice any symptoms for many years.
WHAT IS AIDS?
AIDS is not the same as HIV.
People living with HIV take daily treatment to prevent the virus from advancing into AIDS. Without treatment, PLHIV are at risk of developing AIDS defining conditions. AIDS refers to the illnesses that can develop as a result of untreated HIV or in a person where current treatments have failed. It is not an interchangeable term with HIV. People living with HIV in Australia may still develop AIDS, but this is now rare.
HOW IS HIV TRANSMITTED?
HIV may be present in blood, semen, vaginal fluid, menstrual fluid, anal mucosa, and in breast milk. HIV may be transmitted when such fluids from a people living with HIV enters the body of a person without HIV during anal or vaginal sex where preventative measures are not used. HIV may also be transmitted through the sharing of needles or through unsterile tattooing and piercing processes.
HIV is not an air-borne virus such as the flu. It cannot be passed on by hugging, kissing, shaking hands, coughing or sneezing, nor can it be transmitted through sharing toilets, washing facilities, eating utensils or consuming food and beverages handled by someone who has HIV.
HOW CAN I PREVENT HIV TRANSMISSION?
Practice safer sex
Condoms can help provide protection by preventing semen, vaginal and menstrual fluid, or blood from coming into direct contact with another person.
Everyone has mutual responsibility to look after each other not just from HIV but from other sexually transmissible infections (STI). Sex can be made safer and more comfortable by using either a male or female condom, with water-based lubricants (lube); which help prevent condoms breaking. When used consistently, correctly and together, condoms and lube are effective against the transmission of HIV.
HIV Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) is the use of an HIV medication by HIV-negative people to prevent the acquisition of HIV. PrEP is highly effective at preventing HIV. PrEP is approved in Australia and has recently been listed as a subsidised co-payment through Australia’s Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS). To learn more about PrEP see a doctor with an expertise in HIV and sexual health.
Treatment as prevention
The use of HIV treatment by a person living with HIV to reduce the likelihood of onward transmission is known as Treatment as Prevention. Scientific research has shown that people living with HIV who are on treatment, and who have had an undetectable viral level of HIV in their blood for six months cannot transmit HIV to a HIV negative person during sex.
Travelling and your protection
If you are sexually active and travelling, especially to countries where there is a high prevalence of HIV, make sure you take condoms and sachets of lube with you- in some countries they are difficult to find or are of a low quality.
Medical procedures in unsterile conditions and blood transfusions in some countries are also important risk factors to consider.
Sharing isn’t always caring
Sharing needles and personal care items (eg. razors) can increase the risk of HIV being transmitted through blood.
If you inject, always use new injecting equipment every time and never share any of your equipment. If you are getting a tattoo, piercing, or acupuncture make sure the equipment is sterile.
A blood test is the only way to know if you have HIV. You can get a confidential test by visiting your doctor or sexual health clinic and asking for a HIV test. For further information check the government Health Department website in your State or Territory.
WHAT CAN I DO IF I HAVE BEEN EXPOSED TO HIV?
Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP)
If you think you have been exposed to HIV- for example, as a result of a condom breaking or leakage, you should seek medical advice as soon as possible.
PEP is a four-week course of one or more HIV (or anti-retroviral) drugs which may stop HIV taking hold in the body. The drugs must be taken within 72 hours of exposure to HIV. Research shows that PEP can prevent HIV transmission, however PEP should only be considered an emergency measure.
In Australia, PEP can be accessed through sexual health clinics or GPs who specialise in HIV and AIDS, or through hospital accident and emergency departments.
For further information on PEP contact your local GP, sexual health clinic or hospital.
UNDERSTANDING AND SUPPORTING PEOPLE LIVING WITH HIV
HIV can affect anyone, and people living with HIV often feel isolated because of their fear of being discriminated against and not being accepted.
Feeling accepted and having ongoing support available can make a big difference in helping people deal with the physical and emotional challenges HIV brings.
World AIDS Day, held on 1 December each year, is a significant opportunity to show your support for people living with HIV. Even the simplest gestures-such as wearing a red ribbon pin- can go a long way to showing that you care and help to break down community stigmas.
Another way to support people living with HIV is to engage friends and family in a conversation about HIV, taking the opportunity to increase understanding, decrease stigma and dispel the myths that still exist in our society.
If you know someone who is living with HIV, it is important to remember that there are services and organisations that can provide assistance to them if needed. These services and organisations can offer you advice on how you can support people living with, or closely affected by HIV.
STIGMA AND DISCRIMINATION
HIV does not discriminate, people do. Stigma and discrimination will continue to exist so long as societies as a whole continue to judge people living with HIV. You can help change this by encouraging others not to judge.
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