Learn an overview of HIV

Sexual Health

What is HIV?

HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. HIV attacks the body’s immune system, mainly the T cells. The function of the T cells is to help the immune system fight off infections. But unlike other viral infections the body, even with treatment, can’t get rid of HIV totally. With modern drugs, this disease has become a managed lifestyle disease.

How is it transmitted?

HIV is transmitted through the semen, vaginal fluid, or pre-ejaculate fluid, during anal and vaginal sex with an infective person and not using a condom or taking medication like post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) to prevent the transmission.

But it can also be transmitted by sharing needles to inject drugs. The virus can live in a used needle up to 42 days, depending on the temperature etc.

Less common transmissions are mother to baby during pregnancy or breast milk. If a mother is on medication, she can stop the transmission to your new born.

Medical workers are also at risk if they are stuck with an HIV-contaminated needle.

Even rarer is transmission through oral sex or through a blood, be it blood transfusions or organ transplants that are contaminated with HIV.

HIV can’t be transmitted by body fluids like saliva, tears or sweat. Nor can it be transmitted by insects bites, air or water, or even toilet seats, or sharing food and drinks.


Without treatment, HIV advances in stages, overwhelming your immune system and getting worse over time. The three stages of HIV infection are: acute HIV infection, clinical latency, and AIDS.

Acute HIV Infection

In 2 – 4 weeks after an infection, many, people will develop severe flu-like symptoms that can include a rash, fever, sore throat, muscle and joint aches and pains, headache, and swollen glands. This stage is referred to as the primary HIV infection. This is also the body’s response to the HIV infection. This is also the stage where the HIV virus starts to replicate and destroys the body’s cells.

Clinical Latency Stage

Latency refers to the period where a virus is living or developing in a person without producing symptoms. In this stage HIV infected people experience no symptoms, or only mild ones. But the virus continues to reproduce at very low levels.

For people who are not on ART, the clinical latency stage lasts an average of 10 years, but some people may progress through this stage faster. As the disease progressions, eventually your viral load will begin to rise and your CD4 count will begin to decline. As this happens, you may begin to have constitutional symptoms of HIV as the virus levels increase in your body before you develop AIDS.


The only way to determine whether you are infected is to be tested for HIV infection.


There is no cure, but HIV can be controlled with proper medical care. The medicine that is used are call antiretroviral therapy. These drugs also reduces the risk of an infected person infecting another person.

HIV will, if untreated, reduce the number of T Cells in the body. The person will become prone to infections. Over time, the body is unable to defend the body against infections or disease. Then HIV can lead to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, or AIDS. On average, if there is no treatment given, and depending on the subtype of HIV (HIV 1 or HIV 2), the survival time after infection with HIV is estimated to be 9 to 11 years.


Having another STD can increase the risk of getting or transmitting HI. Some of the most common STDs include gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis, trichomoniasis, human papillomavirus (HPV), genital herpes, and hepatitis.

If you are HIV-negative but have an STD, you are about 3 times as likely to get HIV if you have unprotected sex with someone who has HIV. There are two ways that having an STD can increase the likelihood of getting HIV. If the STD causes irritation of the skin, like from herpes, or human papillomavirus, breaks or sores may make it easier for HIV to enter the body during sexual contact. Even STDs that cause no breaks or open sores like chlamydia, can increase your risk by causing inflammation that increases the number of cells that can serve as targets for HIV.

If you are HIV-positive and also infected with another STD, you are about 3 times as likely as other HIV-infected people to spread HIV through sexual contact. This appears to happen because there is an increased concentration of HIV in the semen and genital fluids of HIV-positive people who also are infected with another STD.