HIV - The facts
Nearly 1 in 16 people who have HIV in the UK don't know that they have the virus. But for the 94% that do, life-saving HIV treatment and care can be accessed at any UK HIV clinic (see HIV Services).
Taking HIV treatment every day can supress the virus to a level where it cannot be detected and cannot be passed on. To make this easy to remember it’s called undetectable = untransmissible or U=U.
This is why getting tested for HIV is so important – you can start treatment straight away, protect your health and not pass the virus on.
How is HIV transmitted?
To pass on HIV, the bodily fluids (such as semen, blood, or vaginal secretions) of one person with untreated HIV need to get inside another person. Being spiked with a needle in a night club, for example, would not pass on HIV, but sharing needles to inject drugs could. The most common form of transmission is from vaginal and anal sex without a condom. Oral sex has less risk.
HIV can be passed from mother to baby during pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding if the mother is not taking HIV treatment. There is a very small risk of passing on HIV through breastfeeding even when taking treatment.
HIV can affect anyone, regardless of gender or sexual preference. In 2019, around 38% of people newly diagnosed got HIV through heterosexual sex and 41% through sex between men.
If you are going to have condomless sex, PrEP is highly effective at preventing HIV. But PrEP does not protect against other STIs so it is important that you protect your sexual health by using condoms when having sex and test yourself regularly if you change sexual partners.
In case you didn’t know; HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that attacks the body’s immune system (our natural defence against infection and disease). In late-stage HIV infection, also known as AIDS, the weakened immune system means the body is more vulnerable to life-threatening conditions such as pneumonia and cancer.