Who is affected by HIV?

HIV can affect anyone regardless of their gender identity and/or sexual orientation. However some people are more at risk of HIV due to who they might be having sex with and/or the sex that they're having. For example, there are more gay, bi and other men who have sex with men, and Black African populations living with HIV in comparison to other identities.

What is HIV?

HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. It is a virus that weakens the immune system, leaving us open to infection.

What is late-stage HIV?

Specialists now prefer to use the term ‘advanced’ or ‘late stage’ HIV infection, which acknowledges that symptoms of the virus can continue to be suppressed through effective treatment.

Very few people are living with AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) and is caused by HIV. AIDS is generally used to describe how HIV has impacted the immune system so significantly that it has stopped working effectively, and the person develops a life threatening illness(es) such as pneumonia. You cannot get infected with AIDS.


Myths

Can HIV be caught from kissing?

Only some body fluids contain enough HIV to pass on the virus. These fluids are blood, cum and pre-cum. Although spit, sweat and piss can contain the virus, they don’t have enough to infect someone.

Isn't oral sex safe?

Oral sex is much less risky but there is still a small chance that HIV could enter the bloodstream through cuts, sores or ulcers that occur in your mouth or on your cock.

Wouldn't I know if I had HIV?

Not everybody who gets infected with HIV will get symptoms and if they do they may just be like flu. The only way to know for sure is by having an HIV test.

Surely there is a cure for HIV?

There is still no cure for HIV, but treatment has advanced to suppress the virus. Someone with an undetectable HIV viral load won't pass the virus on to a person not living with HIV.

Treatment isn't effective

Advances in treatments mean that positive people can be live healthily with HIV. It is now recommended that people start Anti-retroviral treatment (ART) once diagnosed to ensure that they're viral load is suppressed and that the virus doesn't further impact their immune system.

So, if you have HIV you need to look after your health otherwise your body’s immune system won’t be able to fight infections and you might end up with serious life-threatening illnesses.

History

We now know a lot more about HIV and how to manage it, which means people living with HIV can live longer, healthier lives. HIV is no longer the ‘death sentence’ it once was. However, just because things have changed it does not mean we don’t need to worry about HIV. It still remains incurable, and is ultimately a life long chronic infection.

With as many as 1 in 5 gay and bisexual men living with HIV in major cities such as Brighton, London or Manchester, it is likely that many of us are living with HIV, or know of someone who is (whether we know it or not).

Transmission & Symptoms

Transmission is when a HIV negative person is exposed to HIV and is infected with the virus, becoming HIV positive.

HIV exposure is when HIV infected bodily fluids come into contact with a HIV negative person’s blood stream.

Not every case of exposure will result in the transmission of HIV. In order for HIV transmission to occur there needs to be direct prolonged exposure or contact with bodily fluid(s) of an infected person.

HIV transmission through bodily fluids

HIV can be spread through exposure and contact with bodily fluids from an infected person. These bodily fluids include:

  • Anal mucus
  • Blood
  • Semen
  • Precum
  • Vaginal fluid

Also, fluids such as tears, saliva, sweat and urine do not contain sufficient quantities of the virus to cause transmission.

How HIV can enter the body

  • Directly into the bloodstream e.g. Through damaged skin, injecting equipment, etc.
  • Absorption through mucous membranes (found in the anus, throat and foreskin / head of penis)

If you remove one of the factors, transmission cannot take place. Remember, condoms are the most effective way of removing the route of the virus into the body.

Other factors that increase the risk of HIV transmission

  • Having another Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) - If sexually active it is a good idea to go for regular sexual health check ups.
  • Use of recreational drugs - People can lose their inhibitions when taking drugs and this may lead to people taking more risks when having sex. Certain substances such as poppers can facilitate longer and rougher sex, and could increase the opportunity for HIV to get into your bloodstream.
  • The first three months after infection - When a person first becomes infected with HIV, their viral load is higher than at any other time. The higher a person’s viral load, the more likely it is that HIV transmission could occur.
  • Using needles or syringes - If someone with HIV has already used them, there is a risk of transmission. Always use clean needles and syringes.
  • Sharing sex toys - Using a new condom and washing sex toys before using on a different person will reduce the risk.
  • Fisting - Any sexual activity which can lead to cuts in the lining of the arse can increase the risk of transmission. Plenty of water based lube should be used, and for added protection gloves can be worn.
  • Unprotected oral sex - Although small, there is a risk of getting HIV through unprotected oral sex, especially if you have bleeding gums or sores in your mouth.
  • Unprotected vaginal sex - Significantly increases the risk of HIV transmission.

Symptoms

A lot of people do not have any symptoms when they become infected with HIV. Other people may have a flu like illness, aching muscles or joints, develop a rash, have swollen glands or have night sweats. However, we can get these symptoms without having HIV.

The only way to know for sure if you have HIV is to go for a test.

Getting a HIV test

Whether the test turns out to be positive or negative, knowing your status means you can look ahead and plan for the future. If you identify as a man who has sex with other men (MSM), you can get tested by LGBT Foundation staff. Click here to find where and where we'll be testing next. If you don't identify as a man who has sex with other men, there loads of other ways you can testing, including free postal testing kits, through sexual health (GUM) clinics and some GPs offer HIV tests too. Click here to explore your options.

Different tests require different amounts of blood and take as little as 2 minutes to develop. At LGBT Foundation we use Alere test strips which require a small of blood from a pin prick in one of your fingers and takes 20 minutes to develop. It tests for both antibodies (your body's response to infection) and antigens commonly associated with the HIV virus. Other tests might just look for antibodies.

A lot of tests have a window period of 12 weeks which means that they're at their most effective and accurate 12 weeks after you've had a sexual encounter with a risk of HIV exposure. If you do recieve a reactive result from postal kits and at our rapid hIV testing clinics you should attend a sexual health clinic to confirm that you have HIV positive status. We'll provide you with wellbeing support along the way and link you to our partners at George House Trust, Manchester's HIV positive charity.

Advantages of early diagnoses

The advantages of early diagnosis are:

  • You can monitor your health effectively.
  • You can plan for the future.
  • You can start treatment when required, reducing damage to your body.

Late diagnosis is a serious problem in relation to health complications and therefore, the earlier you are diagnosed the more likely you are to be able to manage the infection and lead a healthier life.