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About HIV

The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) attacks the immune system, which is the body’s defence against disease. If a person’s immune system is severely damaged by the virus, they will develop the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). This means they are vulnerable to infections and illnesses that their body could normally fight off.

HIV must be present in body fluids in large quantities to be infectious. HIV is only present in such large quantities in the blood, semen, pre-ejaculatory fluid ('pre-cum'), vaginal secretions and breast milk of an HIV-positive person.

A person can only become infected with HIV if one of these body fluids passes into their blood stream. The main ways in which this happens are:

  • Unprotected sex (anal or vaginal sex without condoms)
  • Sharing needles/syringes

HIV is not transmitted through day-to-day contact such as sharing cups and cutlery.

A person infected with HIV is described as 'HIV positive', meaning that they receive a 'positive' result from a blood test for HIV infection.

HIV can live in the body for years without causing immediate or obvious damage, although the virus is constantly replicating. Many people with HIV continue to look and feel well throughout their lifetime. They may not even be aware that they are living with the virus.

There are many effective treatments available for HIV that can stop the infection developing into AIDS. People on treatments can live a long and productive life equal to that of a person without HIV.

In Australia there are approximately 27,150 people living with HIV. Globally, there are around 35 million people with HIV.

This section has information on HIV prevention, sexual health, legal issues related to HIV, statistics about the HIV epidemic, HIV research, the government and community response to HIV in Australia, as well as information about how you can help.

If you are HIV positive you will find useful information in the Living with HIV section.

This page was published on 12 January, 2011

This page was reviewed on 15 March 2016