With World AIDS Day on the way (Friday 1 December), now is the perfect time to learn more about HIV. Here's everything you need to know.
1. HIV and AIDS are not the same thing
HIV is a virus, while AIDS is a collection of illnesses caused when HIV weakens the immune system. That means you don’t test for AIDS, nor do people ‘have’ AIDS.
Today we talk about people living with HIV and, thankfully, rarely need to talk about AIDS in the UK. Instead, doctors talk about late-stage or advanced HIV. But HIV can still cause serious illness if left untreated.
2. HIV can affect anyone – no matter your gender, age, sexuality or ethnicity
HIV can, and does, affect anyone of any age, sexuality, ethnicity or gender. In the UK, around half of people living with HIV are gay and bi men and the other half are straight people.
HIV testing needs to be increased to find the estimated 4,400 people living with undiagnosed HIV in the UK. It’s never been easier to get an HIV test and to get a result quickly. You can get a test in person or order tests online, with free and paid-for options. Many tests will provide you with a result in a just a few minutes.
3. People on effective treatment can't pass on HIV
HIV treatment works by stopping the virus from reproducing and reducing the amount of virus in the blood to what is called an ‘undetectable’ level. This means that the virus is still there, but it is in such small amounts that it can’t be passed on to anyone else. It also means that the immune system is protected from the virus, so treatment keeps people living with HIV healthy.
It usually takes between three to six months for someone to become undetectable once they start treatment.
The fact that people on effective HIV treatment can’t pass it on is one of the most positive messages someone living with HIV can hear. It reduces the stigma around HIV and provides motivation to stay on treatment to keep both themselves and their sexual partners healthy – and it means we can stop HIV transmissions altogether.
4. There’s a pill you can take to protect against HIV
The latest big change in the HIV epidemic in the UK is the arrival of PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis). It’s a HIV prevention pill taken by HIV-negative people to protect them against HIV.
Following a long campaign by organisations including us, it's now available on the NHS but we’re doing all we can to raise awareness of it in all communities.
5. Discrimination still exists
While the science has come on leaps and bounds, some public attitudes to HIV have remained stuck in the 1980s. Last year, we conducted a survey which found that only 37% of people feel comfortable kissing a person who is living with HIV, despite the virus never being passed on in that way.
Negative attitudes to people living with HIV and stigma around the virus lead to discrimination. They're a big part of why people living with HIV report significantly higher mental health issues than the general population. And in 2023, there is no place for them.
Stigma hurts people living with HIV, it stops people talking openly about what the virus really means, and it puts people off getting tested and knowing their status.
6. This decade can be the end of the epidemic in the UK
The UK Government is working towards ending new cases of HIV by 2030. Imagine a world where the UK can be the first country to end new HIV transmissions? The compassion and loyal support of our supporters has got us this far and means that we can make it a reality.
It’s possible to be living with HIV and not know it. We urgently need your help to help find and test everyone living with HIV in the UK, because people living with HIV who are on treatment can’t pass it on.
We truly can reach the life-changing goal of ending new HIV cases in the UK by 2030, but we can't do it without you.