What is HIV and AIDS?
HIV is the Human Immunodeficiency Virus which attacks a person’s immune system. There is no cure or vaccine for HIV, but there are medicines available which help people with HIV to keep well and live healthier lives. If untreated HIV can damage the immune system over time leaving it unable to fight off infections, this can lead to AIDS.
AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome which describes a combination of potentially life-threatening infections and cancers, which can develop when someone’s immune system has been damaged by HIV.
HIV treatment works by reducing the amount of HIV in someone’s blood to let their immune system work properly. If a person responds well and adheres to their treatment they may greatly reduce the chances of passing the virus on to their partners. Treatment is constantly improving and currently involves between 1 and 4 tablets a day.
Having an HIV test is the only way to know if you have HIV. Many people do not know they are living with HIV until they become ill from prolonged damage to their immune system. The sooner someone is diagnosed with HIV the sooner they can start on treatment which will keep them well.
How is HIV passed from person to person?
HIV is found in blood, genital fluids semen, vaginal fluid and breast milk. To become infected with HIV these infected body fluids must pass into a person’s bloodstream.
In the UK HIV is most commonly passed from person to person:
- By having anal or vaginal sex without a condom.
- By sharing needles or injecting equipment
- From mother to child during pregnancy, birth or breastfeeding.
- HIV can affect both men and women of all ages, ethnicities and religions. It is most commonly transmitted through anal and vaginal sex without a condom.
HIV testing in Sefton Sexual Health Service
The only way to know if you have HIV is to have a test. All Sefton Sexual Health clinics can offer a free and confidential HIV test. The test involves taking a small amount of blood from your arm. The results will become available from the clinic in two weeks time.
The most accurate results from the test come from blood taken three months after the exposure to HIV. However, a test can also be taken after 4 weeks if you are concerned that you have been at risk.
If it has been within 72 hours since you think you have been exposed to HIV then please contact Sefton Sexual Health, A&E or any sexual health service in order to enquire about PEPSE (post exposure prophylaxis for HIV).
Sefton Sexual Health Service does not currently offer PreP. However, you can make an appointment with a sexual health doctor who will be able to offer advice and onward referral if deemed necessary.
Not sure if you are at risk of contracting HIV? Use these two links which take you through a step by step self-assessment.
For more information please see Living with HIV.
A fast track referral form is also available in the section professionals only referral forms and downloads.