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What is HIV?

HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus.

It is a virus that attacks the human immune system. Someone infected with the virus can live with HIV or be HIV positive for many years without becoming ill or showing symptoms. During this time however, HIV remains in the body damaging the immune system and the person remains infectious; able to spread the virus to others if a few simple precautions are not follwed. HIV Virus


Over time, HIV can damage the immune system to such a degree that infections may begin to occur as a result of a weakened immune system. Eventually, one may acquire various illnesses due to the damage done by the virus.


When this happens this is called AIDS or Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. That is, a collection of illnesses.

What is the difference between HIV and AIDS?

In simple terms - you can't 'catch' AIDS. You can, however, catch HIV. Being infected with HIV does not mean that one has AIDS, but if left undiagnosed and/or untreated, HIV infection damages the immune system and can progress to AIDS. 

AIDS results from the desruction of the immune system by HIV. The immune system's function is to fight off infections and other diseases. If your immune system is damaged or not working well, you are at risk of life-threatening infections and cancers. HIV attacks and destroys the disease fighting cells of the immune system. The body is left with a weakened defense against disease.

How is HIV transmitted?transmission risks

HIV is found in the following body fluids;  semen, blood, vaginal fluids and breast milk. Infection can only occur when body fluids from an infected person enter the blood stream of another person. 

Worldwide, unprotected sex between men and women is the main route of HIV transmission. In Australia, HIV has mainly been transmitted through unprotected sex between men. However, transmission rates between men and women are increasing.

 HIV can be transmitted by:

  • Unprotected sex (sex without a condom)
  • Sharing needles and syringes
  • Unsterile body piercing or tattooing
  • Mother to child
  • Blood transfusion and/or blood products pre 1990

HIV cannot be transmitted by:

  • Coughing
  • Hugging
  • Kissing
  • Sneezing
  • Spitting
  • Crying
  • Sharing Cutlery and crockery
  • Bed Linen
  • Toilets or Showers
  • Mosquitoes
  • Or through any form of casual contact