WHAT IS HIV

HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. HIV can only live within a human host and is most often transmitted through:

  • Unprotected penetrative vaginal or anal sex

  • Performing oral sex on a man. This is less likely to transmit HIV than penetrative vaginal or anal sex

  • From a mother to her child during pregnancy, birth or breastfeeding. HIV drug treatments can virtually eliminate this risk in women that have been diagnosed with HIV

  • Sharing anything that cuts or pierces the skin such as needles and syringes to inject drugs or home made tattooing equipment. Doctors, hospitals, dentists and professional body piercers/tatoo artists will sterilise their equipment to eliminate this risk.

  • Unscreened blood, blood products or organ donations. The screening of donors virtually eliminates this risk in the UK.

HIV is passed between people by blood, semen, pre-cum (the fluid that the penis produces for lubrication before ejaculation), breast milk and vaginal fluids, including menstrual fluids and the mucous found in the rectum

HIV cannot be transmitted through the air or through sweat or saliva or by kissing, masturbation, insects or other animal bites, faeces or casual everyday contact such as sharing food, toothbrushes, clothes, linen or furniture etc.

HIV infects and gradually destroys an infected person’s immune system, reducing their protection against infection and cancers.

Initially, someone living with HIV may show no symptoms of HIV infection as their immune system manages to control it. people without symptoms may still pass HIV to others.

There are very good drug treatments available to help manage HIV infection but there is no cure. If you have been at risk of HIV infection or other sexually transmitted infections it is best to Get Tested so that if you have any problems you can be treated at the earliest possible stage. Late diagnosis can result in serious health complications and be harder to treat. Staffordshire Buddies offers a confidential Rapid HIV Testing service to anyone over 16 who feels that they may be at risk. For more information on this service, please visit our Get Tested page where you’ll also find information about local GUM services.

What is PEP? (Post Exposure Prophylaxis)

PEP is a short course of treatment that can be given to people immediately following a possible exposure to HIV. Taking PEP helps reduce the risk that the person will go on to develop HIV infection.

PEP is not a single pill, it is a short course of treatment typically lasting a month.  The side effects of treatment can be unpleasant and it is only suitable for emergency use.

To help reduce the risk of HIV infection PEP should start as early as possible. Ideally PEP should start within 48 hours of exposure to HIV and no later than 72 hours.

PEP should be available from Accident and Emergency departments but awareness of it among staff can be quite poor. GUM clinics can offer it and have better knowledge and experience but they are not open at all times. A number of questions may be used to decide whether a person has been at high risk of infection. PEP is not provided on demand to everyone who believes they have been at risk of HIV infection.

What is PReP? (Pre Exposure Prophylaxis)

PrEP is used by HIV negative people to prevent them from becoming HIV positive. PrEP comes in the form of a pill and is proven to help protect people from catching HIV. The same medicine has been used for many years to treat people with HIV. The treatment needs to be started before sex.

Recent studies have looked at 2 different ways to take PrEP and both have been shown to reduce the risk of catching HIV by at least 86%. PrEP  contains 2 drugs – tenofovir and emtricitabine but is more commonly known throughout Europe as Truvada.

Currently, the NHS doesn’t provide PrEP for free. However, you can buy it from a private clinic and it is also legal to buy PrEP more cheaply online.

Here at Staffordshire Buddies, we can provide you with help, support and information around HIV, health and wellbeing. Our message to those who are newly diagnosed with HIV is around Living Well with HIV and we will support you in staying healthy and making informed decisions about your health.