What is HIV?

HIV stands for the Human Immunodeficiency Virus. HIV attacks the body’s immune system, the body’s defence against disease, so that it can no longer fight off certain infections.

HIV is the virus that causes the incurable and life-threatening medical condition called AIDS.

What is AIDS?

AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. A person would have an AIDS diagnosis when their immune system has become so weak that it can no longer fight off a whole range of diseases with which it would normally cope.

Passing on HIV (HIV Transmission):

HIV is usually transmitted sexually though both unprotected anal and vaginal sex, although it can also be transmitted through sharing needles or from mother to child.

For HIV transmission to occur as a result of sex between men, the following needs to be the case:

  1. One of the men must have HIV.
  2. The sex must involve body fluids that contain sufficient quantities of HIV
  3. These body fluids must get into the bloodstream of the negative man (the section ‘How risky is…?’ on the GMFA site has details about the kinds of sex that facilitate HIV transmission)

For HIV transmission to occur, HIV-infected body fluids have to pass into the bloodstream of an uninfected person. While HIV can be found in many different body fluids of a person with HIV, only some body fluids contain a sufficient quantity of the virus to enable HIV infection to occur. These body fluids are:

  1. Blood
  2. Cum and pre-cum
  3. Discharge from STIs (such as gonorrhoea)
  4. Anal mucus


Sometimes sex isn’t always as safe as we would like it to be (for example if a condom splits during sex).

PEP (which stands for Post Exposure Prophylaxis) is a drug treatment that can be given up to 72 hours (3 days) after sex if someone thinks they may have been exposed to HIV.

PEP is an intensive 4 week course of anti-HIV medicines. Find your nearest GUM clinic.

For more detailed information about HIV/AIDS (things like how it is transmitted, signs and symptoms, living with HIV) you can visit the Terrance Higgins Trust and GMFA websites
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