Get the facts

Page last updated: 26 November 2015

Image of Scarlet Alliance and supporters on the steps of the Opera House in Sydney, 2013
Image courtesy of Scarlet Alliance

Did you know?

HIV is not spread through everyday touching, kissing or cuddling.

Most of us are only too aware of the serious challenges that HIV continues to pose around the globe.

HIV still exists in Australia. There were 1,236 new HIV diagnoses in Australia in 2013,  slightly less than the previous year.

HIV can affect anyone. There is no vaccine or cure for HIV, however there is treatment. People living with HIV take medications on a daily basis to keep their HIV under control, and to keep themselves healthy. Today, HIV is considered to be a chronic but manageable condition, and people living with HIV can lead long and healthy lives, with a similar life expectancy to a person who does not have HIV (someone who is 'HIV negative').

Like many other diseases, HIV can be prevented. By being informed about how HIV, and how it can be transmitted, we can look after ourselves and others.

So take the first step – inform yourself about HIV. This website contains important information about HIV, including how you can protect yourself and where to go for more information and help.

What is HIV?

HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is a virus that causes AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). They are not the same thing.

HIV weakens or breaks down the body’s immune system and makes the body vulnerable to disease and infection. Some people who have contracted HIV experience flu like symptoms, but others do not notice any symptoms for many years.

What is AIDS?

AIDS is not the same as HIV. A person living with HIV does not necessarily have AIDS, but all people with AIDS are HIV positive. People living with HIV take daily medications to prevent the virus from advancing into AIDS.

Without treatment, AIDS can occur after many years of damage to the immune system caused by HIV. This damage to the body’s immune system makes the body vulnerable to disease and infection. If untreated, advanced stages of HIV may result in a person developing a number of ‘AIDS-defining illnesses,’ which can be very debilitating and possibly lead to death.

How is HIV transmitted?

HIV may be present in blood, semen, vaginal and anal fluid ,or in breast milk. HIV may be transmitted when such fluids from a HIV Positive person enters the body of an HIV Negative person during unprotected anal or vaginal sex, or when sharing injecting equipment. Pregnant women who are HIV positive, and who are not receiving appropriate care and treatment, may pass HIV onto their babies during pregnancy, during delivery, and when breast feeding. There are many women who are HIV positive in Australia who have successfully had babies who are HIV negative.

Scientific research has shown that people living with HIV who are on appropriate treatment, and who have a sufficiently low viral load, have a very low risk of transmitting HIV to a HIV negative person.

HIV it is not spread like air-borne viruses such as the flu. It can’t be passed on by hugging, kissing, shaking hands, coughing or sneezing. Nor can it be passed on by sharing toilets and washing facilities or using eating utensils or consuming food and beverages handled by someone who has HIV.

How can I help to prevent HIV transmission?

Always practice safer sex

Condoms can help provide protection by preventing semen, vaginal fluid, or blood from coming into direct contact with another person.

Everyone has a mutual responsibility to protect each other not just from HIV but from other STIs. Sex can be made safer by using a male or female condom together with water-based lubricants (lube), which help prevent the condoms from breaking. When used correctly and together, condoms and lube are the best protection against the transmission of HIV.

Travelling and your protection

If you are sexually active and travelling, especially to countries where there is a high prevalence of HIV, make sure you take condoms and sachets of lube with you – in some countries they are difficult to find or are of a low quality.

Medical procedures in unsterile conditions and blood transfusions in some countries are also important risk factors to consider.

Sharing isn’t always caring

It’s best not to share needles and personal care items (e.g. razors), as blood-borne viruses such as HIV can be transmitted through blood.

If you inject, always use new injecting equipment every time and never share any of your equipment. If you are getting a tattoo, piercing, or acupuncture make sure the equipment is sterile.

Testing

A blood test is the only way to know if you have HIV. You can get a confidential test by visiting your doctor or sexual health clinic. For further information check the government Health Department website in you State or Territory.

Access to the State Health Links is available here.

What can I do if I have been exposed to HIV?

Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP)

If you think you have been exposed to HIV – for example, as a result of a condom breaking or leakage, you should seek medical advice as soon as possible.

PEP is a four-week course of one or more anti-HIV (or anti-retroviral) drugs which may stop HIV becoming established. The drugs must be taken within three days of exposure to the virus. Research shows that PEP can prevent the likelihood of HIV transmission, but it is not 100% effective. For that reason PEP should only be considered an emergency prevention strategy of last resort.

In Australia, PEP can be accessed through sexual health clinics or GPs who specialise in HIV and AIDS, or through hospital accident and emergency departments.

For further information on PEP you can contact your local GP or sexual health clinic.

Understanding and supporting people living with HIV

HIV can affect anyone, and people who are living with HIV often feel isolated because of their fear of being discriminated against and not being accepted.

Feeling accepted and having ongoing support available can make a big difference in helping people deal with the physical and emotional challenges HIV brings.

World AIDS Day, held on 1 December each year, is a significant opportunity to show your support for people living with HIV. Even the simplest gestures – such as wearing a red ribbon pin – can go a long way to showing that you care and breaking down community stigmas.

If you know someone who is living with HIV, it is important to remember that there are services and organisations that can provide assistance if needed. These services and organisations can offer you advice on how you can support people living with, or closely affected by HIV.

Stigma and Discrimination

HIV does not discriminate, people do. Stigma and discrimination will continue to exist so long as societies as a whole continue to judge people who have HIV. You can help change this by encouraging others not to judge.

Information on HIV & support services can be found on the contacts page.

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