HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. They are not the same thing. AIDS is the effects of the HIV infection in later stages of the illness. AIDS is what proves fatal, not the HIV infection alone.

The HIV virus causes illness because it attacks and destroys the human immune system, specifically the CD4 cells. These are what enable the human body to fight infection and recover. As CD4 cells are gradually destroyed by the HIV virus so AIDS advances. It is when an infected person’s count of CD4 cells falls below 200 per millilitre of blood that they are diagnosed as having AIDS. There is no HIV virus carried in an infected person’s sweat, tears, urine or faeces. As the HIV virus does not survive in the air, it is not possible to become infected through coughing, sneezing or spitting from someone who is infected. Nor does the virus survive in water so it cannot be transmitted through swimming pools, showers or baths.

HIV is spread through certain bodily fluids from an infected person. Blood, semen, pre-seminal fluid, vaginal and rectal fluids and breast milk can all carry the infection. If infected when pregnant a mother can pass the virus on to her unborn child. Other causes of transmission of the virus are unprotected sexual activity and contamination through for example a syringe that contains infected blood. Whilst AIDs and HIV were much publicised in the 80’s they are thankfully very low down on the list of most common sexually transmitted diseases and the risks can be mitigated by engaging in safe sex at all times.

Ways of avoiding infection are to use condoms during sex and avoidance of sharing any equipment used in drug use.

There are a number of myths about the transmission of the HIV virus. A person CANNOT become infected through shaking hands with an infected person, or contract the virus from insect bites or toilet seats, nor from kissing or sharing cutlery with an infected person.

There is no cure for HIV at present but there are a number of treatments that can slow down the progress of the virus and allow someone infected to live a normal, healthy and long life. It is very important for an infected person to take special care of their general health and remain engaged with medical professionals.

There is no known cure for AIDS at present but treatment is available to slow the illness down and therefore reduce the damaging effects. Such treatment is known as ART which stands for Anti Retroviral Treatment.