What is HIV?
HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that damages your immune system. This means that your body finds it harder to fight everyday infections and disease, which can lead to serious health problems if left untreated.
How is it passed on?
HIV can be passed on a number of ways. These include:
- Sex without a condom
- Sharing needles
- From mother to baby
- Through breastmilk
Sex without a condom is the most common way that HIV is passed on in the UK. It’s NOT passed on through kissing, hugging, spitting or sneezing.
How do I know if I have it?
The only way to know if you have HIV is to take a test.
Around 80% of people infected with HIV experience a short, flu-like illness that happens 2-6 weeks after infection. The most common symptoms are:
- raised temperature (fever)
- sore throat
- body rash
Symptoms can also include tiredness, joint pain, muscle pain or swollen glands. If you have any of these symptoms a few weeks after sex, it’s important to get a test.
However, some people don’t notice any symptoms and can have HIV for years without knowing. During this time, the virus can start to damage the immune system. If you’re sexually active, we recommend getting a full STI test between each sexual partner, even if you don’t have any symptoms.
What does testing involve?
A test for HIV is a blood test. If you’d like to test for HIV, you have a couple of options which are both free and confidential:
- A blood test at a sexual health clinic to check for HIV and other STIs
- A self-taken fingerprick test (you can order a free STI testing kit online here)
At the moment, due to Covid-19 precautions, we would advise ordering an online testing kit in the first instance. If you’re really worried and would like to talk to someone, you can call your local sexual health team for service information and sexual health advice.
Stoke-on-Trent and North Staffordshire: 0300 7900 165
South Staffordshire – 0300 124 5022
Shropshire – 0300 123 0994
Telford & Wrekin – 0300 123 0994
What if my test comes back positive?
If your test comes back positive, your local sexual health team (or online testing provider) will get in touch and talk things through with you. You will be referred to your local HIV Treatment and Care Team, who can provide support and will discuss your treatment options. All HIV treatment is free in the UK.
It’s important to know that HIV is a manageable condition and someone with HIV on treatment can live a long and healthy life. In fact, treatment is so good now, that people taking it properly have such low levels of the virus in their body that they can’t pass it on. Read more about this on Terrence Higgins’ Trust website.
How can I protect myself from HIV?
Condoms are the best way to protect yourself against HIV, as well as other STIs. Make sure you’re putting on condoms correctly, and using plenty of water-based lube, to make them less likely to break. You can get free condoms and lube with a C-Card, or from your local sexual health team.
Some people take PrEP, which is a drug taken by HIV-negative people before and after sex that reduces the risk of getting HIV. It’s important to know that PrEP doesn’t protect against other STIs, so if you do take PrEP, it’s a good idea to use condoms too. Read more about PrEP on Terrence Higgins’ Trust website.
If you think you have been exposed to HIV in the last 72 hours, you may be able to access PEP. PEP is a treatment that can stop an HIV infection after the virus has entered a person’s body. PEP is for emergency use only and is only given to people who meet the guidelines for its use. If you think you may need PEP, contact your local sexual health team, or A&E. Read more about PEP on Terrence Higgins’ Trust website.