Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)
HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is a virus which weakens the immune system and leaves people open to unusual illnesses and cancers that wouldn’t normally be a threat.
HIV is present in most body fluids such as blood, cum, pre-cum, vaginal fluids and breast milk, and it usually when one of these fluids is passed from an infected person to an uninfected person, that the virus is passed on. The virus is also present in spit, sweat and urine, but there is not enough of it in these fluids to cause infection. The main way that HIV is passed on is through unprotected anal or vaginal sex, however, it’s also been known to be passed on through oral sex, although this is much rarer.
When somebody picks up HIV, they will not get any symptoms straight away. When they do happen, the symptoms can be quite easy to miss as they tend to be cold or flu-like illnesses such as a fever, swollen glands or a sore throat which we get all the time without having HIV. Some people can experience much stronger symptoms, but these people are a minority, which is why a lot of people don’t know they’ve got the infection.
Because the symptoms are easy to miss, the only way you’ll know for sure whether you have the virus is to have a blood test at your local sexual health clinic. However, most tests will only give a definite result if it is taken over 3 months after the infection may have happened.
There is still no cure for HIV, but there are treatments available which can dramatically improve and lengthen the lives of people living with the virus. However, these drugs should not be relied on as alternative to protecting yourself against the virus, as they don’t work for everybody and can have very unpleasant side effects. If you are diagnosed with HIV, it’s important for your sexual partners to get checked too. If you’re worried about doing this or are finding it difficult to get in touch with your partners, the clinic where you get tested can help. They can contact people on your behalf and let them know without giving your name.
How to avoid it
Some people say that the only way to stay HIV negative is to stop having sex altogether and to a certain extent that is true. However, in the real world, if you use condoms and dental dams for oral sex and rimming, and condoms with loads of water-based lube for anal or vaginal sex, you stand a good chance of being able to stop the infection from being passed on.