Human immunodeficiency virus

What is HIV?

HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. It is primarily transmitted in blood, semen and vaginal fluids via condomless sex or sharing injecting equipment.

HIV is the virus that can cause AIDS.

What is AIDS?

Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is not a single disease. It is a diagnosis that results from a variety of conditions that can occur when a person’s immune system is seriously damaged by HIV.

The terms HIV and AIDS are not interchangeable. It is important to remember that a person who is living with HIV does not necessarily have AIDS. However, all people with AIDS have HIV.

Despite treatment advances that have been made over the past 40 years, there is no cure for HIV and no vaccine to prevent it.

How is HIV transmitted?

HIV is a communicable disease, but it is not contagious like air-borne viruses such as influenza. HIV cannot be transmitted by hugging, shaking hands, coughing or sneezing. Nor can it be transmitted by sharing glasses, cups or cooking utensils.

There are three main modes of HIV transmission:

  • Sexual intercourse without using protection, including anal, vaginal or front hole sexual intercourse
  • Sharing drug injecting equipment
  • Mother to child during pregnancy, birth or breastfeeding.

How is HIV treated

HIV treatments have dramatically changed over time and can now offer people living with HIV a long and healthy life. The combinations of drugs used to treat HIV can vary from person to person.

The medication used to treat HIV can depend on several factors, such as:

  • How long you have had the virus before being diagnosed
  • What combinations of drugs work best for you without experiencing side effects
  • Your body’s response to front line treatment

Most HIV treatments today involve taking a pill once a day with none to very minimal side effects. There are however a few combinations that involve a few tablets once or twice a day.

For more information about HIV treatments head to Treat HIV Now

How many people are living with HIV?

Approximately 37.6 million people are living with HIV across the globe, with 1.7 million being aged under 15 years.  

It is estimated that over 31,000 people are currently living with HIV in Australia. Since the introduction of biomedical prevention strategies, HIV notifications have been reduced. There are now roughly between 600-900 HIV notifications per year in Australia where cases used to be over 1,000 per year. This decline has also been seen in Victoria, with cases peaking at 322 in 2016 and declining to 195 in 2020.  

In Victoria in 2022, 186 people became HIV positive. Some information about this figure includes:

  • 50% of notifications came from people born in Australia and 50% from people born overseas
  • There were more men (80%) than women (14%) who became HIV positive
  • The most common age when being diagnosed with HIV was 30-39

Why is HIV not over?

HIV and AIDS are still major global health issues facing millions of people around the World. Since the start of the epidemic in the early 1980’s, an estimated 35 million people have died from HIV related conditions. For particular regions across the globe, access to testing, treatment and prevention tools remains relatively limited, meaning contracting HIV can result in poor health outcomes and death in these areas. Until there is a vaccine and a cure for HIV, it will remain a significant health issue globally.

Who is affected by HIV and AIDS?

HIV is a disease that affects everyone. It does not discriminate based on how rich you are, where you are from, how you grew up, or what your gender and sexual orientation are. It is an infection – plain and simple.

HIV has a bigger impact on particular groups of people, however, everyone can be at risk, and therefore everyone needs to remain vigilant about the prevention strategies they employ and remember to get tested regularly.