HIV is an infection caused by a virus that attacks the body's immune system.

How can I catch HIV?

HIV is most commonly passed on through vaginal or anal sex without a condom.

It can also be passed from mother to baby at childbirth. HIV can be transmitted when injecting drug users share needles. In rare cases, HIV can be transmitted through transfusion of infected blood.

What are the symptoms?

HIV may cause flu like symptoms a few weeks after infection. After this, people with HIV usually remain symptom free for several years. However, as their immune system becomes weaker they are less able to fight common infections, for example, pneumonia or tuberculosis. As the immune system also plays a role in preventing the development of cancer, people with HIV are more likely to acquire certain cancers.

How do I know if I’ve got it?

The test for HIV is a blood test.

If you are getting a test in clinic, this is usually from a nurse who will take a blood sample with a needle. We also offer Rapid HIV tests, which use a blood finger prick test, and offer instant results (check our Service Finder to look for axess clinics offering Rapid HIV tests).

If you're doing one of our postal STI tests, the HIV test is also done via a finger prick. You can watch the blood test instruction video and follow this link to see the instruction leaflet that comes in the kit. HIV may take four weeks to show up in a test from the time of infection.

If you are in any doubt about window periods, you should do a test now, and another test at a later date.

Can it be treated?

There is no cure for HIV, but there are treatments that enable people to live a long and healthy life. Most treatments for HIV involve taking anti-viral medications.

Being on successful treatment and achieving what is called 'an undetectable viral load' also means that people cannot pass on the virus to sexual partners.

If your HIV test comes back as 'reactive', we may need to do a confirmation test first (if you tested via a postal test or a rapid HIV test).

If your test is confirmed positive, we will help support you to access follow-up care, support and treatment, to ensure you live a full and healthy life. We can also offer you support on telling your partners and helping them access HIV testing, PrEP/PEP and follow up support.

How can it be prevented?

  • Condoms and lubricant are very effective at preventing HIV infection. You can get free condoms at sexual health clinics.
  • PrEP is a pill you can take before sex that offers near complete protection from HIV. It is a very effective tool for people at risk of HIV, especially those who may find it difficult to use condoms every time. PrEP is now available on the NHS for those who are at high risk. Please contact us for an appointment to discuss.
  • If you have been exposed to HIV in the last three days, then a short course of anti-HIV medication (PEP) can prevent you contracting the infection. If you think you may have been exposed to HIV in the last three days, you should go to an axess sexual health clinic immediately - search for PEP on our Service Finder. The sooner that you start this medication, the more likely it is to be effective. If you can't find a clinic open near you, you can also access PEP from any Accident and Emergency Department (A&E).
  • It is important to test regularly for HIV infection (at least once a year, or whenever you have a new sexual partner).

What will happen if I have HIV but I don’t get it treated?

AIDS is the final stage of HIV infection. This is when the immune system is so weak that it is unable to fight most infections.

For more information on HIV/AIDS click here