HIV is an infection caused by a virus that attacks the body's immune system.
How is it passed on?
HIV is most commonly passed on through vaginal or anal sex without a condom.
It can also be passed from mother to child at birth. HIV can be transmitted when injecting drug users share needles. In rare cases, HIV can be transmitted through transfusion of infected blood.
HIV infection may cause a flu like illness a few weeks after infection. After this, people with HIV usually remain symptom free for several years.
However, as their immune system becomes weaker they are less able to fight common infections, for example, pneumonia or tuberculosis. As the immune system also plays a role in preventing the development of cancer, people with HIV are more likely to acquire certain cancers.
Long term effects
AIDS is the final stage of HIV infection. This is when the immune system is so weak that it is unable to fight most infections.
Many people in the UK are carrying the infection without knowing it.
It is important to test regularly for HIV infection (at least once a year, or whenever you have a new sexual partner).
The SH:24 STI test kit
The test for HIV is a blood sample.
You can watch the blood test instruction video and follow this link to see the instruction leaflet that comes in the kit. HIV may take four weeks to show up in a test from the time of infection. If you are in any doubt about window periods, you should do a test now, and another test at a later date.
There is no cure for HIV, but there are treatments that enable most people to live a long and healthy life. Most treatments for HIV involve taking anti-viral medications.
As soon as your test results become available, we will send you a text message to let you know how to get treatment. If you have an infection, an NHS clinician may then call you to discuss your treatment.
Telling your partner
If you have HIV, you should tell all of your current partners and anyone else that you have had sex with in the last three months. They may have HIV without knowing it, so it is important for them to be tested.
How to avoid HIV
Condoms are very effective at preventing HIV infection.
You can get free condoms at sexual health clinics.
Regular testing each time you change sexual partner helps reduce the spread of STIs.
If you have been exposed to HIV in the last three days, then a short course of anti-HIV medication (PEP) may prevent you contracting the infection.
If you think you may have been exposed to HIV in the last three days, you should go to your local sexual health clinic immediately. The sooner that you start this medication, the more likely it is to be effective. To find your nearest PEP service, visit sxt.org.uk.