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  • What is it? HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) was first reported in the United States in 1981 and is the STI that people are most worried about. HIV leads to AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) which is the condition when the body’s immune system becomes so damaged that it cannot fight simple infections. It is estimated that 58,000 people in the UK have HIV and about a third of that number don’t know they are infected. Around 30,000 are gay men and of the remaining 28,000 approximately 19,500 were Black-African which reflects the fact that globally the highest concentration of HIV is in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Symptoms: As for HIV symptoms, generally there are none. This explains why around 20,000 UK victims do not realize they have the virus, however when someone first becomes infected with HIV they may have a flu-like illness within a month or two after exposure to the virus. It is at this point that they are most infectious. More persistent symptoms may not appear for 10 years or more. The most obvious effect of HIV infection is a reduction in CD4 positive T (CD4+) cells found in the blood. These cells are the body’s infection fighting cells and an integral part of the human immune system. As the HIV takes hold the body develops AIDS. Common symptoms of AIDS are frequent and severe Herpes infections or a painful nerve disease called shingles.
  • Transmission: HIV can be contracted when body fluids from an HIV positive person mix with an uninfected person. Typically the body fluids involved are semen, vaginal secretions and blood. That said, unprotected sex does not guarantee that a person will contract HIV. HIV needs to enter the bloodstream and this is often through damaged skin or the absorbent anal lining. Any activity that damages the skin or the lining of the vagina, penis or anus is going to increase the likelihood of contracting HIV. This is why unprotected anal sex is particularly risky. Unprotected oral sex is much safer than unprotected vaginal or anal sex but, there are cases of HIV transmission through oral sex. There are four main ways to contract HIV: vaginal, anal or oral sex without a condom with someone who has HIV; using needles, syringes or other drug-injecting equipment that is infected with HIV; From a woman with HIV to her baby (before or during birth) and by breastfeeding and by receiving infected blood, blood products or donated organs as part of medical treatment.
  • Treatment: There is no cure for HIV or AIDS. To test for HIV a saliva or blood sample must be taken but you may have to wait up to 3 months before going for a test. The HIV test detects HIV antibodies, and won’t appear until 3 months after infection occurs. If a person suspects they may have had sex with an HIV positive partner medical expertise must be sought within 72 hours to receive treatment that can reduce the probability of contracting HIV.
    Treatment of HIV can delay the onset of AIDS for 20 years or more with a number of drugs. The first group of drugs used to treat HIV infection, called nucleoside reverse transcriptase (RT) inhibitors which, interrupts an early stage of the virus making copies of itself. The second group of drugs are called protease inhibitors which interrupt the virus from making copies of itself at a later step in its life cycle. The third class of drugs are fusion inhibitors and work by interfering with HIV-1's ability to enter into cells by blocking the merging of the virus with the cell membranes. This inhibition blocks HIV's ability to enter and infect the human immune cells. HIV can become resistant to any of these treatments.
  • Post Treatment: Side effects associated with the use of antiviral drugs that can be severe. Some of the nucleoside RT inhibitors may cause a decrease of red or white blood cells. Some may also cause inflammation of the pancreas and painful nerve damage. The most common side effects associated with protease inhibitors include nausea, diarrhoea, and other gastrointestinal symptoms also severe allergic reactions such as pneumonia, trouble breathing, chills and fever, skin rash, blood in urine, vomiting, and low blood pressure. Click here for a list of agencies you can contact should you require further information or help.

If there are any health workers that could help us keep our pages updated please mail us as we are very aware that new research and information is constantly being published on HIV / AIDS. Your help would be much appreciated.

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