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What is HIV?

HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is a virus that attacks the immune system. Your immune system fights off infections in your body.

How can I get HIV?

You can get HIV from having sex without using a condom with someone who has HIV — this includes vaginal, anal, and oral sex. You can also get infected if you share needles or exchange blood with someone who has HIV.

Some people in the early stages, about 1 – 3 weeks after getting the virus, get a fever, sore throat, rash, headache, and pain in their muscles. Others don’t show any of these symptoms. You may not have any physical signs of HIV in the first few years of infection, this is why it is important to get tested regularly.

How can I prevent HIV?

It’s important to use a condom every time you have oral, anal, or vaginal sex. Find out more about condoms here. Another great way to prevent HIV is by using PrEP.

How do I test for HIV?

You can get an HIV test at any clinic. The clinic may use a drop of your blood or sometimes saliva to do the test. Rapid HIV tests take minutes to give you a result. If you’re having sex, it’s important to get tested regularly to protect yourself and others.

How is HIV treated?

HIV can’t be cured and there is no vaccine to prevent it, but there is life-long treatment and involves taking antiretroviral (ARV) medication. This treatment is only effective if taken daily, as prescribed. People who take their treatment as prescribed can reach an undetectable viral load; this means that the HIV is so low in their blood stream that the chances of it spreading and infecting other people is decreased. Learn more about viral load in Facts about HIV treatment.

If you leave HIV untreated after many years after infection, it can cause problems like:

  • Fever, weight loss, diarrhoea, loss of appetite.
  • Yeast infections in your mouth that look like raised white patches.
  • Swelling in your armpit, around your groin or on either side of the neck.

Because your immune system is weak, it also causes infections of your:

  • Lungs such as tuberculosis (TB) or pneumonia.
  • Brain such as meningitis.
  • Eye infections that can cause difficulty seeing.

What is AIDS?

Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome aka AIDS is the term healthcare providers use to describe the late stage of HIV infection when the immune system is at its weakest.

Not starting HIV treatment early or not taking the treatment as prescribed can cause HIV to develop into AIDS. This can cause a lot of complications, including death. If you are on treatment, you are expected to live a long, healthy life, just like any other person.

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