What is HIV/ AIDS?

HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. It can infect and gradually destroy an infected person's immune system, reducing their body’s ability to fight infection and cancers.

AIDS is short for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. AIDS is not a single disease or condition. It is a term that describes the point when a person’s immune system can no longer cope because of the damage caused by HIV and they start to get one or more specific illnesses.

Did you know…

10.9% of the population of South Africa are HIV+ , but many do not know that their status. The faster you start the right treatment the higher the quality and the longer the length of life you will have. Click here to see the full article.

Main sources of HIV infection

The body fluids that contain enough HIV to infect someone are:

  • Seminal fluid
  • Vaginal fluids, including menstrual fluids
  • Breast milk
  • Blood
  • The mucous found in the rectum
  • Pre-cum (the fluid that the penis produces for lubrication before ejaculation).

You can find out more about HIV transmission here.

Signs and symptoms

The first symptoms can appear within six weeks of infection. After this, many people can have no symptoms for years. You can find more about HIV symptoms here.

Common symptoms of infection include:

  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Chronic diarrhoea
  • Skin rashes, especially on your face, genitals or anus
  • An increase in Herpes ulcers or thrush infections in your mouth and genitals
  • Sweats, especially at night
  • Unusual tiredness
  • Nausea or loss of appetite
  • Swollen lymph glands in the neck, groin or armpits.

These symptoms can all be caused by conditions other than HIV. However, if you experience all or some of these symptoms, it is a good idea to get a test, especially if you have had unprotected sex or have engaged in any other high risk activity.

This includes injecting drugs or sharing unsterilised injection equipment, sex with multiple partners, unprotected penetrative sex with someone who is infected, transfusion of contaminated blood or blood products, semen donation (artificial insemination), or skin grafts/organ transplants from someone who is infected.

It is also possible for a mother who is infected to pass the infection to her baby. This can occur during pregnancy, at birth and through breastfeeding.

HIV testing

Knowing your status is always better for your long term health. The test needs a sample of blood from your arm. Better2Know has three different HIV tests. The right test for you depends on how long it has been since the incident that you are concerned about, and how quickly you want your results.

Why have an HIV test?

Treatment has become very good over the last ten years or so, and being positive is no longer considered to be a fatal condition.

If you are positive, avoiding testing does not make the virus go away. Instead, it allows the virus to silently damage your health. The longer someone goes untested and untreated, the more chance that the treatment will not work as effectively as it would if started sooner.

Testing can save your life and protect others, too. Without the knowledge of your HIV status, you could potentially pass the virus on to others through sex without a condom, or any other unsafe sexual or lifestyle behaviour.