HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. The virus attacks the immune system, and weakens your ability to fight infections and disease.

  • You can get HIV by having unprotected sex (vaginal, anal and oral) or by sharing sex toys with someone who has the infection.
  • It can be passed on by sharing infected needles and other injecting equipment.
  • It can be passed on from an HIV-positive mother to her child during pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding.
  • HIV is found in the body fluids of an infected person, which includes semen, vaginal and anal fluids, blood, and breast milk.
  • It does not survive outside the body for long.
  • HIV cannot be transmitted through sweat or urine.
  • There is no cure for HIV, but there are treatments to enable most people with the virus to live a long and healthy life.
  • With early diagnosis and effective treatment, most people with HIV will not go on to develop AIDS.
  • More than one in five people with HIV (over 20,000) do not know they are infected.

HIV is not passed on through:

  • kissing
  • spitting
  • being bitten
  • contact with unbroken healthy skin
  • being sneezed on
  • sharing baths, towels or cutlery
  • using the same toilets or swimming pools
  • mouth-to-mouth resuscitation
  • contact with animals or insects, such as mosquitoes


Most people who are infected with HIV experience a short, flu-like illness that occurs two to six weeks after infection. After this, HIV often causes no symptoms for several years.

Common symptoms include:

  • fever (raised temperature)
  • sore throat
  • body rash
  • tiredness
  • joint pain
  • muscle pain
  • swollen glands (nodes)

Getting tested

Most HIV tests involve taking a small sample of blood and sending this to a laboratory for analysis. These tests can provide a reliable result from four weeks after possible infection.

It is also possible to test using a saliva sample or pin-prick (blood-spot) test. However, these tests do not reliably detect HIV if you have been infected within the past few weeks.

If your test is positive, you will be referred to a specialist HIV clinic where you'll have more blood tests to show what effect HIV is having on your immune system and be able to discuss treatment options.

Please contact our booking and advice line if you require an HIV test of further information.  HIV support services also available from Herts Aid, a Hertfordshire based HIV & Sexual Health Charity.

How is HIV treated?

If you think you have been exposed to the virus within the last 72 hours (three days), anti-HIV medication may stop you becoming infected.

Medication (post-exposure prophylaxis or PEP) must be started within 72 hours of coming into contact with the virus. It is only recommended following higher risk exposure, particularly where the sexual partner is known to be positive.

The quicker PEP is started the better, ideally within hours of coming into contact with HIV. The longer you wait, the less chance of it being effective.

PEP is a month long treatment, which may have serious side effects and is not guaranteed to work.

Protecting yourself and others

If you think you have been exposed to the virus within the last 72 hours (three days) visit a sexual health clinic as soon as possible.

  • Wear a condom when having vagina, anal or oral sex.
  • Avoid using sex toys.
  • Never share needles or other injecting equipment (including syringes, spoons and swabs).
  • Know your HIV status and that of your partner.

Do you have symptoms or want to be tested?

If you have symptoms you should get yourself tested to avoid infection developing and from transferring it to someone else.

Call 0300 008 5522 to book an appointment at one of our clinics.

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