The human immunodeficiency virus, more commonly known as HIV, is a virus that affects the body's immune system. This gives invaders such as viruses, bacteria and fungi free play. Therefore, someone with HIV is far more likely to fall ill. HIV is an STI and can be transmitted through blood, semen, vaginal fluids and breast milk. The STI is more common among bisexual and homosexual men - one in seventeen are estimated to be living with the virus. If HIV is not treated, the immune system will eventually disappear altogether. The sufferer will then succumb to AIDS. In 2015, just over 100,000 people live with the HIV virus in the UK.
The symptoms of HIV infection are divided into four phases:
- Stage 1 (acute HIV infection): flu-like symptoms.
- Stage 2 (asymptomatic phase): few to no observable symptoms.
- Stage 3 (asymptomatic phase): flu-like symptoms, such as colds and fatigue. These symptoms may last for a longer period of time and become chronic.
- Stage 4 (AIDS-phase): infections which are normally harmless (such as a cold) become increasingly serious and can be fatal.
HIV infection has become a treatable condition, although the disease is still incurable. There are several medicines that make the HIV virus less active. It is important to swallow these HIV inhibitors as quickly as possible to prevent the AIDS stage being reached. As with all medication, there is the risk of side effects, such as nausea or diarrhoea, but these are not inevitable. Most HIV positive people in the UK are able to live long and healthy lives if they have access to this treatment.
The prevention of HIV
There is also a medicine that can prevent HIV infection: the so-called pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). This drug prevents the HIV virus from settling in the body. The medicine is intended for people who do not yet have the HIV infection but have good reason to think they may have been exposed to the virus. They can swallow this medicine to prevent them from becoming infected with HIV.