frequently asked questions


HIV, an abbreviation for human immunodeficiency virus, is a retrovirus that targets and infects cells of the human immune system, primarily CD4-positive T-cells and macrophages, which are crucial components of the cellular immune system. By infecting these cells, HIV disrupts their function and leads to their destruction. This progressive depletion of the immune system results in immunodeficiency, wherein the immune system becomes deficient in its ability to combat infections and diseases. Individuals with immunodeficiency are highly susceptible to a wide range of infections and cancers, many of which are rare among people with a healthy immune system. These diseases are referred to as opportunistic infections since they exploit the weakened state of the immune system.

AIDS, which stands for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, encompasses a collection of symptoms and infections associated with the acquired deficiency of the immune system. HIV infection is identified as the underlying cause of AIDS. The presence of severe immunodeficiency or certain infections serves as indicators that HIV infection has progressed to AIDS.

In the early stages of HIV infection, most individuals remain unaware of their infected status. Some people may experience flu-like symptoms shortly after infection, resembling glandular fever, with fever, rash, joint pains, and swollen lymph nodes. This illness, known as seroconversion, occurs during the development of antibodies to HIV, typically taking place within one to two months after the initial infection. Despite often being asymptomatic, individuals newly infected with HIV can still transmit the virus to others. HIV infection gradually weakens and depletes the immune system, making the body more susceptible to infections, cancers, and the eventual development of AIDS.

A person is considered to have AIDS during the advanced stages of HIV infection. Without treatment, the majority of individuals infected with HIV develop signs of AIDS within approximately eight to ten years. AIDS is identified based on the presence of specific infections.

HIV disease is categorized into stages, with Stage 1 being asymptomatic and not classified as AIDS. Stages II, III, and IV involve various manifestations and infections, including chronic diarrhea, severe bacterial infections, tuberculosis, brain toxoplasmosis, esophageal candidiasis, and Kaposi’s sarcoma. Most of these conditions are opportunistic infections that can be easily treated in individuals with a healthy immune system.

The timeframe for the development of AIDS varies significantly among individuals. It can range from 10 to 15 years, sometimes longer or shorter, between HIV infection and the onset of AIDS. The progression to AIDS can be prevented through antiretroviral therapy, which reduces the viral load in an infected individual.

HIV can be found in various body fluids such as blood, semen, vaginal fluids, and breast milk.

It is transmitted through activities such as penetrative sex (vaginal or anal), blood transfusion, sharing contaminated needles in healthcare settings or drug injection, and transmission between a mother and her infant during pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding.

Sexual transmission

Sexual transmission of HIV is not highly efficient, with the risk being relatively low for a single act of vaginal sex. However, anal sex poses a higher risk, reported to be ten times more likely to transmit HIV compared to vaginal sex. Individuals with untreated sexually transmitted infections, particularly those involving ulcers or discharge, are at a higher risk of transmitting or acquiring HIV during sex. Oral sex is generally considered low-risk for HIV transmission. An individual with HIV who is effectively undergoing antiretroviral therapy and has a suppressed viral load is no longer infectious.

Transmission through sharing of needles and syringes

Transmission of HIV through the sharing of needles and syringes is highly efficient and can be significantly reduced by using new disposable needles and syringes or properly sterilizing reusable ones. Universal precautions should be followed by healthcare workers to lower the risk of transmission in healthcare settings.

Kissing on the mouth poses no risk of HIV transmission, as there is no evidence to suggest that the virus can be spread through saliva during kissing.

There is a risk of HIV transmission when contaminated instruments are either not sterilized or are shared with others. It is important to ensure that instruments intended to penetrate the skin are used only once, and if reused, they should be thoroughly cleaned and sterilized.

Using unsterilized objects such as razors or knives can potentially transmit HIV through cuts or openings in the skin. It is not advisable to share razors unless they are fully sterilized after each use.

Using unsterilized objects such as razors or knives can potentially transmit HIV through cuts or openings in the skin. It is not advisable to share razors unless they are fully sterilized after each use.

Engaging in sexual intercourse with someone living with HIV is considered safe if the person’s virus is fully suppressed through treatment. Proper use of condoms or following pre-exposure prophylaxis guidelines recommended by healthcare providers also ensures safety.

It is recommended that individuals living with HIV avoid acquiring a different strain of the virus. Therefore, the advice mentioned in question 11 should be followed, except for the use of pre-exposure prophylaxis, which is not applicable to individuals already living with HIV.

Safer sex involves taking precautions to reduce the risk of transmitting or acquiring sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, during sexual activities. Using condoms correctly and consistently, engaging in oral sex and non-penetrative sexual activities, or taking pre-exposure prophylaxis (if at risk of HIV infection) or maintaining an undetectable viral load (if living with HIV) are all considered safer sex practices.

Quality-assured condoms are currently the only available products that offer protection against sexual transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. When used properly, condoms are a proven and effective method of preventing HIV infection in both men and women. It is important to use condoms correctly and consistently to achieve their protective effect, as incorrect use can lead to condom slippage or breakage, reducing their effectiveness.

An HIV test is a diagnostic tool used to determine if a person has been infected with HIV. Commonly used tests detect the antibodies produced by the immune system in response to the virus, as they are easier and more cost-effective to detect compared to the virus itself. Antibodies are generated by the immune system as a response to infection. These tests can be conducted on blood or oral fluid samples.

Knowing your HIV status has two crucial benefits. Firstly, if you are infected with HIV, early initiation of treatment can potentially extend your life for many years (refer to question 36). Secondly, being aware of your infection status enables you to take necessary precautions to prevent HIV transmission to others (refer to question 13). If you test negative for HIV, you can also learn how to protect yourself from future infections.

Have a question in mind?