Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a virus that affects the body’s immune system and reduces its ability to fight infections.
How is the virus spread?
HIV is found in the blood, semen, vaginal fluids and breast milk of an infected person. It can be passed on:
- through unprotected penetrative sex;
- by sharing needles to inject drugs;
- from a mother to her baby before or during birth;
- by breastfeeding.
Contact with sexually transmitted infections (STIs) increases the risk of getting HIV. A discharge or broken skin around the genital area makes it easier for the virus to pass from an infected person to an uninfected partner.
There are effective antiretroviral treatments for HIV. If diagnosed and treated early, people infected with HIV can live long, healthy lives.
You may also be eligible to access pre-exposure prophylaxis to protect against HIV.
What are the signs and symptoms?
Many people who are living with HIV have no obvious signs and symptoms. The only way of knowing if you have the virus is by taking a HIV test. It is important not to delay seeking advice and taking this test if you feel you have been at risk. If you are worried, you should ask your doctor to do a test for HIV. The earlier the condition is diagnosed the more successful treatment is likely to be.
All pregnant women in Northern Ireland are now routinely tested antenatally for HIV.
Raising awareness about HIV
Every year, World AIDS Day events take place to raise awareness and show support for people living with HIV. The next World AIDS Day is 1 December 2023.