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HIV is the human immunodeficiency virus that causes AIDS. It is a member of a group of viruses called retroviruses; HIV infects cells and uses the nutrients provided by those cells to grow and reproduce. AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) is a disease in which the body's immune system breaks down and is unable to fight off certain infections.

When a person is infected with HIV, the virus enters the body and lives and multiplies mostly in white blood cells, our immune cells. As the virus grows, it damages or kills these and other cells; this weakens the immune system leaving the patient vulnerable to opportunistic infections and other illnesses.

Many people remain asymptomatic for 10 to 12 years, following contracting the disease. There are now over 40 million people living with HIV or AIDS worldwide. Most of them do not know they carry HIV and may be spreading the virus to others. Over 13 million children have been orphaned by the epidemic, a high proportion of which reside in Africa.

HIV the virus is carried in body fluids, blood, semen, vaginal secretions, and breast milk. The virus is transmitted from one person to the other and enters via the blood stream, this can occur through:-

  • linings of the vagina, rectum, mouth, and the opening at the tip of the penis
  • intravenous injection with a syringe
  • through a break in the skin, such as a cut or sore
  • Unprotected sexual intercourse (either vaginal or anal) with someone who is HIV infected.

The virus is not easy to pass from one to another, it is not transmitted through coughing/sneezing , and not by everyday contact i.e. sharing eating utensils
HIV the virus is present in vomit, faeces, urine and sweat and tears.- transmission from these is highly unlikely but care needs to be taken when handling any body fluids. Mosquitoes do not transmit HIV

If you are sexually active, protect yourself from HIV infection by practicing safer sex. Whenever you have sex, use a condom when used properly, condoms are extremely effective. Purchase a quality latex brand prior to leaving on your holiday, and keep available. Do remember though only use water-based lubricants. Oil, Vaseline, or hand lotions cause the condom to become useless.

Web: - Terence Higgins Trust - The Terry Higgins Trust was established as a charity in 1982.

Terry Higgins was one of the first people in the UK to die with AIDS. A group of his friends wanted to prevent more people having to face the same illness as Terry. So they named the Trust after him, hoping to personalise and humanise AIDS in a very public way.

To find out more about their services, call THT Direct on 0845 1221 200.

Please Note: The information provided here should not be used for diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A medical practitioner should always be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of all medical conditions.

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