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What is HIV?
HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus which can be
transmitted from person-to-person through infected blood, semen,
vaginal fluids, rectal secretions or breast milk. HIV is so-called
because it attacks the body's immune system - the body's defence
against disease-causing organisms and substances.
The virus is most commonly passed on through sex without a condom
or through sharing infected needles.
What is AIDS?
Left untreated, HIV infection can weaken the immune system to
such an extent that a person develops AIDS, which stands for
"acquired immunodeficiency syndrome". AIDS is a collection of
diseases and symptoms which can arise (only) in HIV-infected
individuals, as a result of the body's inability to fight
Approximately four to six weeks after a person becomes infected
with HIV, symptoms can occur as a result of the body's immune
system reacting to the virus. This phase of infection is referred
to as "seroconversion", and it is during this period that
antibodies against the virus are produced by cells of the immune
system. Antibodies are proteins generated by cells of the immune
system to help fight disease.
Common symptoms of seroconversion can include any one or more
of the following:
- Muscle ache
- Joint pain
- Swollen lymph nodes
The above flu-like symptoms can last from a few days to a few
weeks, and although most people experience these symptoms within
weeks of becoming infected, in some cases symptoms may not appear
Less common symptoms of seroconversion include:
- Sore throat
- Oesophageal/vaginal/anal ulceration
- Oral candidiasis (oral thrush)
Although there is currently no cure for HIV infection,
anti-retroviral therapy (ART) can be used to supress the virus and
halt progression of the disease. ART has substantially reduced the
incidence of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), and
nowadays many people can recover from AIDS. As such, since the
development of ART, the number of deaths in the UK due to HIV
infection has declined significantly. Moreover, people diagnosed
promptly with HIV that start ART early can expect near normal life
If your results indicate you may have a blood-borne STI, you
will be contacted directly by the Terrence Higgins Trust, regarding confirmatory
testing, advice and the availability of other services.