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HealthInfo Waitaha Canterbury


Mate ārai kore

HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. HIV is a virus that damages the cells in your immune system and weakens its ability to fight everyday infections and diseases. Being HIV positive means that you've become infected with the virus.

The HIV virus infects and damages CD4 cells, which are an important part of your immune system. If enough CD4 cells are infected and damaged, your body cannot fight off certain germs, which can lead to infection and illness.

AIDS stands for acquired immune deficiency syndrome. It's when a person's immune system has been badly damaged by the HIV virus and their body has become too weak to fight off many infections. This is the last stage of HIV infection. A person with AIDS can develop infections and illnesses that are life-threatening.

Spread of HIV

HIV infection is passed on through body fluids such as blood, semen, rectal and vaginal fluids, and breast milk. Saliva, sweat and urine do not carry enough of the virus to infect another person. So HIV cannot be passed on through kissing or touching an infected person.

If an infected person has been on medication and has had an undetectable viral load for at least six months, they cannot pass on HIV either. An undetectable viral load means that medication has brought the level of virus down to the point where blood tests cannot detect it.

Preventing HIV

Using a condom during sex is the best way to protect yourself from getting or passing on HIV. People who inject drugs can avoid HIV being passed on by not sharing drug injecting equipment.

If you're at risk of catching HIV, it's possible that Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) could be right for you. PrEP is where you take tenofovir and emtricitabine medication that can reduce your risk of developing HIV infection if you're exposed to it. Talk to your doctor about this if you think it might be useful for you.

Diagnosing HIV

To find out if you have HIV you need to have an HIV blood test.

It's important to get tested. The earlier in the disease you're diagnosed, the earlier you can start treatment. You can have an HIV test through your GP, Sexual Wellbeing Aotearoa clinic or sexual health centre.

All pregnant women in New Zealand are offered HIV testing as part of their antenatal blood tests. When you're pregnant it's important to know if you're HIV positive, so you can take medicines that make it much less likely you'll pass HIV to your pēpi (baby).

Treating HIV

In the developed world, HIV is no longer a death sentence. While there is no cure for HIV, there are very effective treatments with antiretroviral medicines. These work by stopping the virus reproducing. If they take the medicine their doctor advises, many people diagnosed with HIV can expect to live long and healthy lives.

Self-care with HIV

Being diagnosed with HIV can be very scary. But it's important to remember that if you take the available medicine, you're likely to live a long and healthy life.

It's important to get the right support and to find out as much as you can about the disease so you can make good decisions about your life and treatment.

Many people are still very afraid of an HIV diagnosis and still feel there is a stigma that comes with it. This can lead to avoiding being tested and not seeking good support and treatment. The following links provide information about the condition and where you can get support and information.

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Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed May 2022.


Page reference: 47045

Review key: HIHIV-47045