HIV is a virus.  When someone becomes infected with HIV the virus weakens and damages their body's defence (immune system) so that it cannot fight off infections. someone who has HIV is diagnosed as having AIDS only when tests show their immune system has been badly damaged and they develop particular illnesses.  These are known as AIDS-defining illness and include recurrent pneumonia and tuberculosis (TB).  Taking HIV treatment helps prevent AIDS developing in most people.


HIV can be passed on from one person to another through sexual contact and in a number of other ways.  You do not need to have lots of sexual partners to get HIV or pass it on.  HIV can be passed on through heterosexual (straight) or homosexual (gay, lesbian) sex.  In women who only ever have sex with women the risk of HIV being passed on is low.  Circumcised and uncircumcised men can get HIV and pass it on.  Most people with HIV will look healthy so you cannot tell who has the virus and you can pass on HIV without knowing you have it.  HIV can be passed on even if someone is taking anti-HIV drugs.  It is passed on from one person to another when the blood, semen, pre-ejaculate (precum), vaginal fluids or breast milk of an infected person enters the body of an uninfected person by: 

  • having unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex 
  • sharing sex toys
  • using a needle or syringe which has already been used by someone who is infected with HIV

A woman with HIV can pass the virus to her baby before or during birth, or by breastfeeding.  The risk of catching HIV from unprotected oral sex is low but it can happen.  You are more at risk if:

  • Your throat or mouth is inflamed or you have cuts, sores, abrasions or any unhealed piercing in the mouth
  • Your partner ejaculates in the mouth
  • You have just brushed or flossed your teeth
  • You are giving oral sex to a woman who is having her period

Having another STI/STD increases the risk of getting HIV or passing HIV on if you already have it.


Many people infected with HIV have no symptoms at all. Some newly infected people experience flu-like symptoms a few days or weeks after infection. These may include fever, rash, swollen glands, a sore throat, mouth or throat ulcers and aching muscles or joints.  These symptoms usually last for about 1-4 weeks.


You will only be certain you have HIV if you have a TEST.   If you or your partner think you might have HIV it is important you don't delay getting a test.  Even if you don't have symptoms you may wish to be tested particularly if you have recently had unprotected sex with a new partner, a sexual partner tells you they have HIV, you and your partner have had unprotected sex with other partners, you have shared drug injecting equipment, you and your partner have another STI/STD, you are planning a pregnancy.


There are excellent treatments now available for HIV and most people with HIV now just take one or two tablets daily.  They may experience side effects such as nausea, diarrhoea and weight loss but these are usually temporary and are increasingly manageable. Many people living with HIV continue to live active and fulfilling lives.  HIV shouldn't stop someone from working, having relationships or having children.


Sadly, HIV stigma still exists in society.  It can be difficult for some people living with HIV to begin or maintain relationships as it can be hard to disclose to new partners and some partners will find it difficult to cope with. The stigma can further have an implication on the person's wellbeing as they might develop other conditions such as mental health problems etc.

There is no need to treat someone living with HIV any differently to anyone else as your reaction can make a big difference to how they feel about their HIV status.


You can't get HIV from touching, hugging. shaking hands, sharing utensils, kissing, spitting, sharing saliva, urine, faeces, biting, scratching, insect bites, contact with a discarded needle.


Use condoms male or female everytime you have vaginal or anal sex.  If you can, avoid using condoms or spermicides containing Nonoxinol 9.  This does not protect against HIV and may even increase the risk of infection. If you have oral sex, cover the penis with a condom or the female genitals and male or female anus with a dam.  Avoid ejaculation into the mouth, avoid giving oral sex to a woman during her period, avoid oral sex if your throat or mouth is inflamed or you have cuts, sores or abrasions in your mouth.

*If someone has told you they have HIV they are placing trust in you. It is very important that you respect this and do not pass on this information without their permission.*