HIV and AIDS
- The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a virus that attacks the human immune system and weakens the body's response to infection.
- People who are diagnosed with HIV are said to be HIV positive.
- If HIV is left untreated (usually many years), it can affect a person's immune system, leaving the body less able to protect itself from disease and may progress to Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS).
Medical research has made great
progress in reducing the impact of HIV infection on the immune system and
managing other illnesses associated with HIV. Currently, while there remains no
cure for HIV, close adherence to HIV antiretroviral treatment (ART) enables
people living with HIV to lead long and healthy lives.
Antiviral treatments stop the virus from multiplying and provide the immune system with relief from HIV infection and allow it to strengthen. Most ART medications are well tolerated and have little or no side effects.
People living with HIV should consult an HIV specialist to ensure they have access to ongoing HIV treatment and care. Adherence to treatment is an essential part of managing HIV and your care team can support you to follow your medication regimen correctly.
Starting treatment for HIV as early as possible after diagnosis will improve your long-term health prospects. Starting treatment late increases the time the virus has to damage the immune system.
When starting HIV treatment, you will continue to have regular blood tests to monitor the level of HIV virus in your system. The aim of treatment is to make your HIV viral load undetectable, which will benefit both you and your sexual partner/s. Research has found that people with HIV who take ART daily as prescribed and achieve sustained viral suppression have effectively no risk of sexually transmitting the virus to an HIV-negative partner. Along with other prevention methods like condoms and Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), having an HIV undetectable viral load can offer effective protection against HIV.
HIV ART is subsidised through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) for anybody with a Medicare card and can be prescribed by accredited S100 prescribers (specially trained doctors in sexual health services and some private GP clinics).
If you are not eligible for Medicare, you will be able to access subsidised treatment from hospital pharmacies in Queensland as long as you have a prescription from a HIV doctor at a sexual health service or a private GP clinic.
You can find out more about treatment on the Queensland Positive People website.
- sexual contact: condomless anal or vaginal sex
- sharing needles and other injecting equipment contaminated with blood
- mother-to baby transmission - breastfeeding and childbirth
- other blood to blood contact.
HIV positive mothers who engage in HIV care, take ART as prescribed and maintain an undetectable viral load cannot transmit HIV to their babies:
- during pregnancy
- during vaginal birth
- when breastfeeding.
HIV can be transmitted through donated blood and blood products if they are contaminated with HIV. The risk of getting HIV from these products in Australia is extremely low as all blood, organs, tissues and semen donated in Australia are screened for HIV.
HIV cannot be transmitted through saliva, sweat, tears, mucous, vomit, urine or faeces. HIV can also not be transmitted by kissing, hugging, sharing eating utensils, shaking hands or any other everyday social contact.
It is recommended that you do not have sex if you or your sexual partner has a genital sore/ulcer or a sexually transmissible infection (STI) until it has been managed and treated. Untreated STIs and sores/ulcers enable HIV to spread more easily from person to person.
In Australia, approximately 10% of
people living with HIV have not been tested and do not know their HIV status.
You cannot make assumptions about someone's HIV status based on the way they
look or whether or not they ask to use a condom.
Currently, there is no vaccine to prevent HIV infection but pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) medications are available to prevent acquiring HIV. There is more information on PEP and PrEP below.
The best way to prevent getting HIV and other STIs through sexual contact is to practise safer sex and always using condoms when having vaginal or anal sex. Using water-based lubricant with condoms is recommended to reduce the risk of condom breakage.
Oral sex has effectively no risk for the transmission of HIV, but there is still a risk for the transmission of other STIs.
HIV can also be transmitted through the sharing or reuse of blood contaminated equipment used for injecting drugs. It is important that needles, syringes and other injecting or piercing equipment are never shared between people. Sterile injecting equipment is available through Needle and Syringe Programs or many local pharmacies.
Medication to prevent HIV
Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP)
PEP is a treatment that may prevent
HIV infection when taken immediately after exposure to HIV. It is recommended
that PEP be taken as soon as possible after, and within 72 hours (3 days) of
exposure. PEP is a 28-day course of tablets that must be taken exactly as
prescribed at very specific times.
It is extremely important that a person who may have been exposed to HIV through contact with blood or body fluids from an HIV positive person seeks medical advice as soon as possible. For more information see the related fact sheet - Post-exposure prophylaxis - HIV.
PEP is available free from most public hospitals or sexual health clinics. Use this locator tool to find your closest location for PEP access.
Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP)
PrEP only protects against HIV, so you will still need to be tested regularly for other STIs.
Talk to your GP or local sexual health clinic to find out more about PrEP.
Some people recently exposed to HIV may experience flu-like symptoms, while others will have no symptoms at all. After initial symptoms disappear, HIV may not cause symptoms for many years. During this time, the virus can be passed on without people knowing. While you may look and feel healthy, the untreated virus could be doing harm to your body.
A specific HIV blood test is needed to detect HIV infection. It can take 2 to 12 weeks after someone has acquired HIV before HIV is able to be detected in the blood through a blood test. This is called the 'window period'.
If you have had condomless anal or vaginal sex or may have been exposed to HIV through sharing needles or other injecting equipment, it is recommended you have an HIV test. Most tests in Australia can detect HIV antibodies within 2–4 weeks after the risk event with follow-up testing recommended if you are within the 12-week window period. During this time, always practise safe sex with condoms and do not donate blood.
It is important to consider the impact a positive result may have on you or your partner and what support mechanisms you might need. Testing at a health service where support and treatment advice is readily available is the best and recommended testing option.
Screening tests like HIV point of care tests (also known as 'rapid HIV tests') are fast and simple and can be used by trained professionals and peers with results available in 20 to 30 minutes. A 'reactive' result on this test is not a diagnosis of HIV and the test result will need to be confirmed by a laboratory blood test.
To find out where you can get a rapid HIV test use this clinic search tool.
HIV self-test kits are also available for free from QPP. The HIV self-test kit uses a drop of blood from your fingertip and takes about 15 minutes to give you an accurate result. For more information and ordering visit the QPP website.
If you are sexually active, it is recommended to have a sexual health check at least once a year. For gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men, testing every 3 months is typically recommended.
If you think you and/or your partner have been at risk of HIV infection, you can have a blood test through your local doctor or sexual health clinic.
If you find out that you do have HIV, anyone you have practised unsafe anal or vaginal sex with should also be encouraged to have a test. If you feel uncomfortable or embarrassed about telling your current or ex-partners, a member of your health care team can assist by contacting them for you. Your name is not mentioned to ensure it is a confidential process. It is very important for your partner's health and the health of other people with whom they have sex that this contact tracing occurs.Your local General Practitioner or sexual health clinic or experienced contact tracers can provide further information and confidential assistance with HIV contact tracing.
Left untreated over time, HIV can destroy
the body's immune system. When the damage is severe, people can develop other
life-threatening illnesses. At this stage of HIV infection, a person is said to
AIDS cases in Queensland have decreased substantially enough that the condition is no longer considered a public health issue.
- Safe Sex
- HIV contact tracing - client responsibilities
- Post exposure prophylaxis - HIV
- Pre-exposure prophylaxis - HIV
Help and assistance
For more information on HIV, you can talk to:
- your local doctor
- your local sexual health clinic
You can also contact:
- Queensland Council for LGBTI Health
- Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO)
- National Association of People with HIV Australia (NAPWHA)
- Queensland Needle and Syringe Program