FAQs on HIV
- What is HIV/AIDS?
- How do you treat HIV?
- How do people become infected with HIV?
- Can I get HIV from oral sex?
- How can you prevent HIV transmission?
- What to do if you think you’ve been in contact with HIV
- Where can I get tested?
- I've just found out that I have HIV
- Someone I know has HIV
If you would like to speak with someone about HIV, please contact your local AIDS Council of PLHIV organisation. Contact details for all state and territory AIDS Councils and PLHIV organisations are on our Links page.
More useful info at:
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 Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS). This means they are vulnerable to infections and illnesses that their body could normally fight off.
HIV can live in the body for years without causing obvious damage, although the virus is constantly replicating.
Many people with HIV continue to look and feel well. They may not even know they have HIV.
There are now effective treatments available for HIV that can stop the infection developing into AIDS.
HIV is treated using a combination of antiretroviral drugs. This is sometimes called 'combination therapy' or 'Highly Active Anti-retroviral Therapy' (HAART).
People with HIV may also take medications that will stop them getting some serious illnesses that commonly affect people with damaged immune systems.
HIV must be present in body fluids in large quantities to be infectious. HIV is only in such large quantities in blood, semen, pre-ejaculatory fluid ('pre-cum'), anal mucus, vaginal secretions and breast milk of an HIV positive person.
A person can only become infected with HIV if one of these body fluids containing HIV passes into their blood stream. The main ways in which this happens are:
- Unprotected sex (receptive or insertive anal or vaginal sex without condoms)
- Sharing needles/syringes
What other ways can people get HIV?
Some babies become infected during pregnancy, birth or breastfeeding.
See also: Mother to Child Transmission
A small number of people working in healthcare have become HIV positive through their exposure to body fluids, for example through 'needlestick' injuries, where their skin has been pierced by a needle containing HIV infected blood.
People can also acquire HIV through infected blood products used to treat haemophilia or for transfusions. However since 1985 the Australian blood supply has been screened for infectious diseases and this form of transmission is no longer considered a risk in this country.
Oral sex is a very low risk activity for getting or passing on HIV. Anal or vaginal sex without condoms remains the highest risk sexual activity for transmitting HIV.
There is not enough evidence to specify the exact risk of HIV transmission during one episode of oral sex. The risk increases if there are cuts or sores in the mouth, allowing HIV to enter a person’s bloodstream.
See also: Oral sex.
HIV is not transmitted through day-to-day contact such as sharing cups and cutlery.
Ways to prevent HIV transmission:
- Practising safe sex (use condoms) and safe injecting drug use (never share needles)
- Taking HIV drugs and other precautions during pregnancy and childbirth
- Use of the antiretroviral drug, Truvada, by HIV-negative people prior to being exposed to HIV — pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) — provides protection from HIV infection. PrEP is not yet licenced for use in Australia but it is available through trials and personal import
- People with HIV who are on effective treatment are unlikely to transmit the virus to sexual partners. This is known as treatment as prevention.
Research into microbicides and vaccines is not yet at a stage where these are effective in stopping the transmission of HIV. For more information, see the website of the AIDS Vaccine Advocacy Coalition (AVAC).
If you think you have been exposed to HIV in the last day or two, contact your local AIDS Council or visit the Get PEP website immediately for information about how to get post exposure prophylaxis (known as ‘PEP’). PEP is treatment with HIV drugs that can prevent HIV becoming established in the body, but it must be started within 72 hours of exposure to have a chance of being effective.
If you think your exposure to HIV was not so recent, you can have a test that will show if you have been infected. This test detects antibodies to HIV. These antibodies will not show up in your blood for a period of between 2 and 6 weeks after you have been infected.
When having the antibody test, you should receive some counselling or discussion both before you take the test and when you receive your test results so that you are fully informed about the test, and about the implications of testing HIV positive. Find an HIV testing clinic.
You can get an HIV antibody test at any General Medical Practice (GP) or sexual health clinic in Australia.
There are also a growing number of community-based, peer-led HIV and STI testing clinics being established across Australia.
To find the location of your closest HIV and STI testing clinic, visit the Time to Test website.
A number of sexual health centres, GPs and community-based testing sites also offer rapid HIV testing, which provides results within 10-20 minutes. See listing.
You may be feeling shocked or scared right now, but HIV is no longer a death sentence in countries like Australia.
Effective treatments are available and there are support services available in all states and territories.
Check out the pages for recently diagnosed people in the Living with HIV section of this website.
If you are a partner, family member and friend of a person who is HIV positive, you probably have questions and concerns that aren't covered by these FAQs.
The Partners, Family and Friends page on this website provides basic information about HIV/AIDS and tips on how to care for and support a person with HIV.
This page was published on 05 September, 2011
This page was reviewed on 15 March 2016
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