Sexual Health

What is HIV?

Most people have heard of HIV, but how many of us actually know what it is?

Let’s break it down…

HIV = Human Immunodeficiency Virus. Okay, but what does Human Immunodeficiency Virus actually mean? These long, technical terms can get pretty confusing. Fundamentally, HIV is an infection that weakens your immune system and makes it harder for your body to fight off other infections and diseases.

HIV spreads through a number of ways. Some people are born with HIV as their mother is HIV positive and doesn’t have access to the medication that can prevent transmission to her child, others get it by exchanging blood with someone who is HIV positive; but the most common way is through unprotected sex. Having sex without a condom is responsible for more HIV infections than any other way.

Symptoms vary and may even take years to show. If you choose to have sex, staying safe and wearing a condom is the best way to keep yourself protected.

Free HIV testing services and Anti-Retroviral Treatment (ART) is available through public hospitals. Although ART is not a cure for HIV, it helps keep the level of HIV in your blood, also known as your viral load, low. This allows you to stay healthy and helps minimize the chances of infecting others. ART is a life-long process. Once started, you need to take your medication every day. Better access to ART has led to a 29% reduction in annual AIDS-related deaths from 0.20 million in 2007 to 0.14 million in 2011.

Taking the right medication when it comes to HIV is the best way to stop it from progressing to AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome). Visiting a doctor with experience in treating people with HIV, eating well, exercising and cutting down on the booze are some of the ways you can live positively.

If you get upset, it’s good to know that help is only one ring away. There are helplines in place with people who want to talk to you. If calling is not your style then visit your local health clinic or search online for support groups nearby, where you can talk to people going through a similar experience.