Sexual Health

HIV - the faster, more efficient way of saying Human Immunodeficiency Virus - a sexually transmitted infection that attacks the immune system, leaving your body vulnerable to opportunistic infections.

Just to be clear – HIV is not AIDS. One thing (HIV) may lead to the other (AIDS) but living with HIV does not necessarily mean that a person has or even will acquire all of the illness, symptoms or syndromes required for an AIDS diagnosis.

How is it transmitted?

Only certain bodily fluids contain transmissible levels of HIV. These are blood, cum, vaginal fluid and breast milk. A person can only become infected with HIV if one of those fluids containing HIV enters their body and passes into the bloodstream. Fucking without condoms or other protections methods such as PrEP (pre exposure prophylaxis) and the sharing of injecting equipment are three of the known ways in which HIV is transmitted.

Are you HIV negative and have another STI like chlamydia or gonorrhoea? Well, you’re upping your risk of contracting HIV if you’re fucking without condoms or the use of PrEP.  As these bugs are known to increase inflammation in the body and make transmission of HIV just that bit easier.  For those people who are living with HIV, co-infection of HIV and another STI will increase the risk of onwards transmission.

Signs and Symptoms

Seroconversion (noun) the period which immediately follows HIV infection. A term used to describe the period during which a person goes from being HIV negative to HIV positive.

Just to be clear, anyone acquiring HIV may or may not experience a seroconversion illness immediately after infection. If they do, these may range from a severe flu-like illness that will pass in a matter of weeks to an opportunistic infection, fever, rashes, sore throat or just some swollen glands. Others will experience none of these at all.

Saying that any one thing is a sign or symptom of HIV infection is problematic because there’s simply - no one thing. It was however a 1995 Grammy Award winning Pop song by a Duo or Group with Vocals.

Been exposed?

If you think you may have been exposed to HIV you should consider getting PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis). PEP is a 4 week course of medication which may prevent HIV infection, provided that treatment is started ASAP. To be effective PEP must be started as soon as the potential exposure has occurred. If it is not started within 72 hours (3 days) it is not likely to work. To access PEP, contact your local sexual health clinic or visit www.getpep.info.

Testing

The most common testing method is a lab based HIV Antibody test. Antibodies are the immune system’s response to infection and can be detected up to 12 weeks after infection, depending on the test used. This is referred to as the window period. If an antibody test is completed during the window, any potential HIV infection may not show until the end of the 6-12 week window period (6 weeks for a conventional lab based test and 12 weeks for a rapid test). It’s important to tell your doctor or sexual health nurse if you’ve been at risk more recently as they will determine whether a more appropriate test for your circumstances should be ordered.

More and more ways to test for HIV are now available and they’re simple, effective and fast. Rapid testing is available in most capital cities across Australia and they return a result anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes, depending on the test kit. Bear in mind that the window period for a rapid test may be longer than that for a conventional lab based test. For more on Rapid Testing contact your local AIDS Council.

As you can see, they really REALLY WANT YOU.

How is it treated?

Highly active combination anti-retroviral medication used to treat HIV can dramatically improve the duration and quality of life for those people living with HIV by minimising damage to the immune system.  Current treatments used have minimal side effects and are generally well tolerated.  Current research (START Study) indicates that starting HIV treatment as soon as possible after being newly diagnosed with HIV has enormous health benefits.

Telling people

Should you tell your partners that you’ve potentially been exposed to HIV? Or should you tell your partners that you are living with HIV? These are difficult questions to answer and entirely up to the individual. Think about whether your disclosure at this point is going to bring with it supportive, empathetic conversations and if your answer is – ‘I am unsure or probs not’ - then it may be better to speak with someone who’s going to stand beside you at this point. There’s no rush and no golden rule saying that your partners, workmates, friends or pilates instructor needs to know. Not at this point and quite frankly, not until you’re ready. If you would like some further support or legal advice, then contact your local PLHIV (People Living with HIV) organisation via the National Association of People with HIV Australia.

Contacting people

Though it may be difficult and uncomfortable a conversation to have, it is important for the health of your sexual partners and the health of other sexual partners that they may have too - that you let them know that they may have been exposed to HIV. 

Relevant laws concerning disclosure to sexual partners

Please note that there are significant variations between jurisdictional state and territory laws concerning disclosure of your positive HIV status to sexual partners throughout Australia.  For further information about the applicable and relevant laws contact the state based PLHIV (People Living with HIV) organisations, and you can find details of these organisations at the National Association of People with HIV Australia.

Also, if you are HIV positive and want to feel empowered by reading other people's discloure story or share your own disclosure story, visit the Disclosure Project.