What are HIV and AIDS?
HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. It is a virus which attacks the immune system of the body and leads to AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome). AIDS develops when someone gets ill because the immune system in their body, which fights off disease, is made weak by the HIV virus.
How is HIV spread?
HIV is not spread like a cold or flu. There are three main ways of becoming infected with HIV:
- through the direct exchange of body fluid through unprotected penetrative sex – oral, anal or vaginal
- by getting infected blood into your blood stream; this can happen if dirty needles or syringes are shared with an infected person
- from an infected mother to her baby during pregnancy, birth or breast-feeding.
How do I know if I have HIV?
The only way to test if you have HIV is to have your blood tested. It can take two to four weeks to receive the results; however, if you have only recently been exposed you may need to be retested in three months because the virus doesn’t show up in your system immediately. If you think you might have been exposed to HIV, please visit your nearest health centre or Medical Services Pacific immediately.
At the moment, HIV has no cure and if left untreated will lead to death; however, it can be managed by a stringent drug regime monitored by the Ministry of Health and Medical Services. These drugs must be taken daily and for the rest of your life. They can have unpleasant side effects, so it is best to avoid getting HIV in the first place.
PEP (Post-Exposure Prophylaxis) treatment is an anti-retroviral medication that can reduce the risk of contracting HIV if taken within 72 hours (three days) after having either unprotected sex or other dangerous exposure. If you have had unprotected sex and are worried about HIV, you should contact your nearest Ministry of Health and Medical Services STI Hub or Medical Services Pacific immediately.