Did you know?
While treatment for HIV is continually improving, at present there is still no cure.
HIV still exists in Australia. There were 963 new HIV diagnoses in Australia in 2017.1 This is the lowest number of diagnoses since 2010. We need to make sure this trend continues.
HIV can affect anyone. There is no vaccine or cure for HIV, however there are highly effective treatments. People with HIV take medications on a daily basis to maintain their HIV at an undetectable level and to keep them healthy. Today, HIV is considered a chronic but manageable condition, and people with HIV can lead long and healthy lives, with a similar life expectancy to a person who does not have HIV.
Like other conditions, HIV can be prevented. By being informed about what HIV is and how it can be transmitted, we can take measures to look after ourselves and others.
So take the first step - inform yourself about HIV. This website contains important information about HIV, including how you can look after yourself and where to access more information and help.
What is HIV?
HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is a condition that can cause AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). HIV and AIDS are not the same thing.
Left untreated, HIV attacks the body’s immune system making the body vulnerable to infections and medical conditions that the immune system would be normally capable of controlling. People who have newly acquired HIV can experience flu like symptoms, but others do not notice any symptoms for many years.
What is AIDS?
People with HIV take daily treatment to prevent the virus from advancing into AIDS. Without treatment, people with HIV are at risk of developing AIDS defining conditions. AIDS refers to the illnesses that can develop as a result of untreated HIV or in a person where current treatments have failed. It is not an interchangeable term with HIV. People living with HIV in Australia may still develop AIDS, but this is now rare.
How is HIV transmitted?
HIV may be present in blood, semen, vaginal fluid, menstrual fluid, rectal fluids, and in breast milk. HIV may be transmitted when such fluids from a person with HIV enters the body of a person without HIV during anal or vaginal sex where preventative measures are not used. A range of preventative measures are described below. HIV may also be transmitted through the sharing of needles or through unsterile tattooing and piercing processes.
HIV is not an air-borne virus such as the flu. It cannot be passed on by hugging, kissing, shaking hands, coughing or sneezing, nor can it be transmitted through sharing toilets, washing facilities, eating utensils or consuming food and beverages handled by someone who has HIV.
How can I help prevent HIV transmission?
Practice safer sex
Condoms can help provide protection by preventing semen, vaginal and menstrual fluid, or blood from coming into direct contact with another person.
Everyone has mutual responsibility to look after each other not just from HIV but from other sexually transmissible infections (STI). Sex can be made safer by using either a male or female condom, with water-based lubricants (lube); which help prevent condoms breaking. When used consistently, correctly and together, condoms and lube are effective against the transmission of HIV.
Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) for HIV
PrEP is a HIV medication which prevents people acquiring HIV. On 1 April 2018, tenofovir with emtricitabine (commonly known as PrEP) was listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) for people at medium and high risk of HIV. This medicine was previously only PBS subsidised for the treatment of HIV infection but not for prevention.
To learn more about PrEP see your doctor or sexual health clinic.
Treatment as Prevention (TasP)
HIV medicine is called anti-retroviral therapy (ART). The use of ART as prescribed reduces the amount of HIV in a person’s body and may lead to what is called ‘viral suppression’. This reduces the likelihood of onward transmission of HIV to a HIV-negative person.
In relation to sexual transmission of HIV, research has found that people with HIV who take ART daily as prescribed and achieve and maintain sustained viral suppression (currently defined as less than 200 copies/mL) have effectively no risk of transmitting the virus to a HIV-negative partner. This is known as ‘Treatment as Prevention’ and ‘undetectable equals untransmittable (U=U)’.
To learn more about Treatment as Prevention visit your doctor or sexual health clinic.
Travelling and your protection
Around the world, 37 million people are living with HIV yet a quarter of those people do not know that they have the virus. If you are sexually active and travelling, especially to countries where there is a high prevalence of HIV, make sure you take condoms and lube with you - in some countries they are difficult to find or are of a lower quality.
Medical procedures in unsterile conditions and blood transfusions in some countries are also important risk factors to consider.
Sharing isn’t always caring
Sharing needles and personal care items (e.g. razors) can increase the risk of HIV being transmitted through blood.
If you inject, always use new injecting equipment every time and never share any of your equipment. If you are getting a tattoo, piercing, or acupuncture, make sure the equipment is sterile.
Testing - Know your HIV Status
The only way to know if you have HIV is through HIV testing. Testing is easy and free of charge in most health facilities. An HIV test is carried out by taking blood from a finger or arm, or by using an oral swab. Depending on the type of test you do, the results can come back in 20 minutes, but if a sample needs to be sent away to a laboratory, it may take a few weeks.
An HIV rapid test is available in some areas as an initial screening tool to detect HIV. Rapid HIV tests use blood or oral fluid and give results in 20 minutes or less. Positive results on a rapid HIV test must be confirmed by blood tests.
You can get a confidential test by visiting your doctor or sexual health clinic and asking for a HIV test. For further information check the government Health Department website in your State or Territory.
What can I do if I have been exposed to HIV?
Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP)
PEP is a four-week course of one or more HIV medicines (or ART) which may stop HIV taking hold in the body. The drugs must be taken within 72 hours of exposure to HIV, and ideally within a few hours of the exposure. Research shows that PEP can prevent HIV transmission in many cases; however, PEP should only be considered an emergency measure.
In Australia, PEP can be accessed through sexual health clinics or GPs who specialise in HIV, or through hospital accident and emergency departments.
For further information on PEP contact your local GP, sexual health clinic or hospital.
Understanding and supporting people with HIV
HIV can affect anyone, and people with HIV often feel isolated because of their fear of being discriminated against and not being accepted.
Feeling accepted and having ongoing support available can make a big difference in helping people deal with the physical and emotional challenges HIV brings.
World AIDS Day, held on 1 December each year, is a significant opportunity to show your support for people with HIV. Even the simplest gestures - such as wearing a red ribbon pin - can go a long way to showing that you care and help to break down community stigmas.
Another way to support people living with HIV is to engage friends and family in a conversation about HIV, taking the opportunity to increase understanding, decrease stigma and dispel the myths that still exist in our society.
If you know someone who has HIV, it is important to remember that there are services and organisations that can provide assistance to them if needed. These services and organisations can offer you advice on how you can support people with, or closely affected by HIV.
Stigma and Discrimination
HIV does not discriminate, people do. Stigma and discrimination will continue to exist so long as societies as a whole continue to judge people with HIV. You can help change this by gaining a better understanding of HIV and encouraging others to learn too.
Reduce the stigma by talking about HIV.
1 Kirby Institute. HIV in Australia: annual surveillance short report 2018. Sydney: Kirby Institute, UNSW Sydney; 2018. https://kirby.unsw.edu.au/sites/default/files/kirby/report/supplHIV2018_content_20180920r.pdf