What are HIV and AIDS?

HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) damages the cells in your immune system and weakens your ability to fight everyday infections and disease.

AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) is the name used to describe a number of potentially life-threatening infections and illnesses that happen when your immune system has been severely damaged by the HIV virus.

Preventing HIV and AIDS

Anyone who has sex without a condom or shares needles is at risk of HIV infection.

There are many effective ways to prevent or reduce the risk of HIV infection, including:

  • using a condom for sex
  • post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP)
  • pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP)
  • treatment for HIV to reduce the viral load to undetectable
  • if you use drugs, never sharing needles or other injecting equipment, including syringes, spoons and swabs.

Speak to your local sexual health clinic or a GP for further advice about the best way to reduce your risk.

Newly diagnosed with HIV or AIDS

There are many things that you can do if a friend or loved one has been recently diagnosed with HIV:

  • talk – be prepared for open honest conversations about HIV
  • listen - being diagnosed with HIV can be life changing news so it is important to listen to your health professionals
  • learn - having a solid understanding of HIV can help you to move on living the life you want to lead
  • follow any medication prescribed by your doctor.

If you are the sexual partner of someone who has been diagnosed with HIV, you should also get tested so that you know your own HIV status.

Living with HIV and AIDS

If you manage your condition properly by taking your medicine correctly and avoiding illness, you should be able to live a near-normal life.

Antiretroviral medications are used to treat HIV. These drugs must be taken every day as recommended by your doctor. Without treatment, the virus will attack the immune system and there is a risk it may be passed on.

You should seek medical advice as soon as possible if you think you might have been exposed to HIV.

As well as taking HIV treatment, there are many things you can do to improve your general health and reduce your risk of falling ill.

These include:

  • exercising regularly
  • eating a healthy, balanced diet
  • stopping smoking
  • have flu jabs once a year to reduce the risk of getting serious illnesses.

Further information: Healthy living.  

Mental health

One of the most common health conditions with people living with HIV is depression. This can range from mild to severe and can affect your day to day life. Symptoms can include:

  • persistent sadness
  • anxiety
  • feeling empty
  • helplessness
  • negativity
  • loss of appetite
  • loss of interest in people and hobbies.

Other mental health conditions can also occur in people with HIV and AIDS including anxiety, mood and personality disorders.

Further information: Mental health.

Support for HIV and AIDS

National AIDS Trust 

The National Aids Trust is dedicated to transforming the UK's response to HIV by

  • championing the rights of people living with HIV
  • campaigning for change
  • shaping attitudes
  • challenging injustice
  • changing lives.

Terrence Higgins Trust

Terrence Higgins Trust has aimed to put its self at the forefront of the fight against HIV and improving the nation’s sexual health.

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