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HIV

What are HIV and AIDS? How is HIV treated?

What is HIV?

HIV is a virus that weakens the body’s immune system making you more susceptible to becoming ill. HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus.

What is AIDS?

AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. AIDS is a diagnosis of someone living with HIV gets when their immune system is weak.

Now, thanks to modern antiretroviral treatment, very few people in the UK develop serious HIV-related illnesses. The term AIDS isn’t used much by UK doctors. Instead they talk about late-stage or advanced HIV.

Undetectable viral load

Studies have shown that a person with HIV who’s on effective treatment can’t pass on HIV, even if they have sex without a condom. We call this having an ‘undetectable viral load’. This is because the drugs used to HIV make levels of virus in the blood so low that they are ‘undetectable’.

If someone with HIV isn’t on treatment and has a detectable viral load, they can pass on HIV through blood, semen, vaginal fluid, anal mucus and breast milk.

HIV is not passed on by spitting, sneezing or coughing, nor by kissing or general social contact.

You can read more about HIV and AIDS on Terrence Higgins Trust’s website.