Despite what a lot of people think, HIV and AIDS aren’t actually the same thing. HIV can be treated with medications that keep people healthy long term. HIV without medication can lead to a severe condition called AIDS.
What is HIV?
HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. HIV is a virus that attacks the immune system, which is where our body fights infection. If left untreated, HIV will damage the immune system to the point where acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) develops. AIDS is the life-threatening condition of late-stage HIV where a person’s immune system is too damaged to fight off even minor infection. Most people with HIV do not have symptoms so you may not know if you or your partner have HIV until you get an HIV test.
Watch this video to learn more about HIV.
This video was developed in collaboration with students from the University of New South Wales Peers Advocating for Sexual Health (PASH) Program. NSW Health thanks them for their contributions.
How do you get HIV?
HIV can be passed from person to person during unprotected vaginal or anal sex with someone who has HIV. Unprotected sex is when you have sex without a condom or without taking PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) as prescribed by the doctor. PrEP is a medication taken to prevent HIV for people at risk of becoming infected.
HIV can also be passed on from:
mother to child during pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding.
piercing your skin with equipment that is not sterilised (sharing needles, drug injecting equipment and tattooing).
You cannot get HIV from kissing, hugging, holding hands, spitting, coughing, sneezing, toilet seats or sharing food or drinks.
How do you prevent HIV?
Use condoms during sex. Condoms will prevent HIV from being passed on. Make sure you change condoms between partners and when sharing sex toys.
Do not share needles, syringes or other injecting equipment.
Take PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) if you are at risk of HIV. PrEP is a medication taken to prevent HIV for people at risk of becoming infected. For more information on PrEP call the Sexual Health Info Link on 1800 451 624 (free call).
Take PEP (post exposure prophylaxis) if you think you have been exposed to HIV. PEP is a medication you take for one month to reduce the risk of getting HIV. It is important to start it as soon as possible after you have had unprotected sex and no later than 72 hours after the event. For more information on PEP, call the NSW PEP hotline on 1800 737 669 (free call).
Test for STIs and HIV every 3-12 months. Testing is important and part of a healthy confident sex life.
What are the tests for HIV?
HIV is tested for by a blood test. HIV is not tested for every time you have a blood test. You need to talk to you doctor to have an HIV test.
You can get an HIV test at your local doctor, a sexual health clinic and some university health clinics. You can call the Sexual Health Infolink on 1800 451 624 (free call) to find the closest service to you. HIV tests are easy, confidential and nothing to be ashamed about.
If your test is positive for HIV, it’s important to let your sexual partners know so they can get tested and treated too. If you need help contacting your partners ask your doctor, visit Let Them Know or call the Sexual Health Infolink on 1800 451 624 (free call).
What is the treatment for HIV?
HIV is treated with medication that you take every day. This protects your immune system, prevents AIDS, and leads to a normal life expectancy. Treatment is not a cure for HIV, but it can keep you healthy and help prevent passing it on to others. The sooner you start taking it, the better it is for your lifetime wellness.
We acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we live and work and recognise their ongoing connection to land, waters and communities. We pay our respects to Elders past and present and extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples today.
Thank you to all the international students who participated in the hub development and design.>
Grant Partners NSW STI Programs Unit, Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District (LHD), South Eastern Sydney LHD, Southern and Murrumbidgee LHD, Sydney LHD, Western Sydney LHD, ACON, BUPA, Centre for Culture Ethnicity and Health (CEH), English Australia, Family Planning NSW (FPNSW), Medibank, Multicultural HIV and Hepatitis Service, University of NSW (UNSW)