What is HIV?

HIV is the name of a virus that attacks the immune system. The immune system is in charge of fighting off infections in your body.

How can I get HIV?

You can get HIV from having sex without using a condom with someone who has HIV- this includes vaginal, anal and oral sex. You can also get infected if you share needles or exchange blood with someone who has HIV.

How can I prevent HIV?

It’s important to use a condom every time you have oral, anal or vaginal sex. Find out more about condoms here. Another great way to prevent HIV is by using PrEP. Find out more about PrEP here.

What does HIV look like?

Some people in the early stages, about 1 – 3 weeks after getting the virus, get a fever, sore throat, rash, headache, and pain in their muscles. Some people don’t show any of these symptoms.

Note: You may not have any physical signs of HIV in the first few years of infection.

How do I test for HIV?

You can get an HIV test at any clinic. The clinic may use a drop of your blood or sometimes saliva to do the test. Rapid HIV tests take minutes to give you a result. If you’re having sex, it’s important to get tested regularly to protect yourself and others.

How is HIV treated?

HIV cannot be cured at the moment and there is no vaccine to prevent it. Treatment is life-long and involves taking antiretroviral (ARV) medicines.

If you leave HIV untreated after many years after infection, it can cause problems like:

  • Fever, weight loss, diarrhoea, loss of appetite.
  • Yeast infections in your mouth that look like raised white patches.
  • Swelling in your armpit, around your groin or on either side of the neck.
  • Because your immune system is weak, it also causes infections of your:
    • Lungs such as tuberculosis (TB) or pneumonia.
    • Brain such as meningitis.
    • Eye infections that can cause difficulty seeing.

What is AIDS?

Aids is the term healthcare providers use to describe the late stage of HIV infection when the immune system is at its weakest.

It’s important to start treatment for HIV early. In South Africa, if you have HIV and are on treatment, you are expected to live almost the same (and as long) as an HIV-negative person. You may live your whole life without any of these infections.

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