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The Facts We Should Know on HIV


What is HIV?
HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. ‘Immunodeficiency’ refers to the weakening of the immune system by the virus.

What is AIDS?
AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. It is a collection of illnesses (‘syndrome’) caused by a virus people pick up (‘acquire’) that makes their immune system weak (‘immune deficiency’).

You can’t get an AIDS diagnosis unless you’re already HIV positive.

How is HIV Transmitted?
HIV is passed on through blood, semen, vaginal fluid, anal mucus, and breast milk if the person with HIV has a detectable viral load. It’s not passed on by spitting, sneezing or coughing.

If someone with HIV has a detectable Viral Load they can pass on HIV through the following body fluids:

  • blood

  • semen (including pre-cum)

  • vaginal flu

  • anal mucus

  • breast milk.

People can get HIV through:

  • heterosexual and homosexual sex without a condom

  • sharing drug injecting equipment

  • sharing sex toys

  • mother-to-child transmission

  • coming into contact with contaminated blood.

HIV cannot be passed on by:

  • kissing

  • hugging

  • shaking hands

  • sharing space with someone

  • sharing a toilet

  • sharing household items such as cups, plates, cutlery, or bed linen

  • any other general social contact.

How could you get HIV from contact with blood?
The risk of HIV transmission through blood comes when the person has a detectable viral load and their blood enters another person’s body or comes into contact with a mucous membrane. These are parts of the body with wet, absorbent skin such as the:

  • eyes

  • vagina

  • head of the penis

  • inside of the anus

  • mouth

There’s also a risk if blood from a person who has a detectable viral load comes into contact with a cut or broken skin, giving HIV a way through the skin and into someone’s bloodstream. If blood gets onto the skin that isn’t broken, there is no risk.

How long can HIV survive outside the body?
Once outside the body, HIV usually can’t survive for very long. Coming into contact with blood or semen that has been outside the body doesn’t generally pose a risk for HIV transmission.

Similarly, the risk of passing on HIV to someone else if you have a detectable viral load and cut yourself is also very low. Wash away any blood with soap and hot water and cover the wound with a sticking plaster or dressing.

What should I do if I need to clean up blood?
HIV does not usually survive long outside of the body, but contact with blood (especially on broken skin) should be avoided.

Hepatitis C can survive in dried blood at room temperature for several weeks, and hepatitis C can survive in dried blood for around a week outside the body.

To clean up the blood that has been spilled, wear rubber gloves and mop up the liquid using bleach and warm water (one part bleach to 10 parts water). Use warm, soapy water to clean away blood spilled on someone’s body.

Put the waste, used gloves and bloodied clothes in a plastic bag, seal and throw away.

Knowing Your Status
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