Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)

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Common Questions

1. How do I know whether I should get tested for HIV?

It only takes one sexual encounter with an infected person to become infected. If you are concerned about HIV infection it is appropriate to be tested even if you are at low risk. Pregnant women are routinely tested for HIV infection. This is very important because HIV transmission to the baby can be prevented if the mother is treated.

You should especially consider getting tested if:

  • you have had sex with three or more partners
  • you are a man who has sex with men
  • you have paid for sex or had anonymous sex
  • you have had sex while travelling overseas
  • you have shared needles for injecting drugs
  • you have had a needle stick injury or are a health care worker with an occupational exposure to a patient's blood

2. How confidential are HIV test results?

Certain testing centres provide either anonymous (your name is never given) or confidential (your name is given but kept private) HIV testing and counselling.

3. Should I tell anyone else of my results?

Yes. If you test positive for HIV, it is important that you tell your health care providers as well as all current and future sex partners and/or anyone with whom you have shared needles. Counselling services are available that will help you to inform the people who need to know. For more information, visit AFAO: What do I need to know?.

4. Are there treatments for HIV/AIDS?

The good news is that the drug therapies for HIV are improving all the time. Now most patients with HIV on medication live a normal life free of illness. These medications work extremely well but they need to be taken very regularly or else drug-resistance and treatment failure may occur. Even those with advanced disease (AIDS) can return to near-normal health with medication. However, whenever possible, therapy should start earlier, before the CD4 cells are too depleted, because the immune system may not be able to completely recover if it is already too damaged. 

5. Can HIV transmission be prevented after exposure?

Yes. HIV transmission can be prevented by taking HIV medication soon after exposure to the virus. This treatment is available in most Australian hospital emergency departments. The treatment should be started as early as possible, by 72 hours it is too late to intervene. However as these medications need to be monitored closely and can cause side-effects it is important to consider the risks and benefits of such treatment carefully before starting. 

6. Does everyone who has HIV get AIDS?

With modern treatments HIV has become a chronic disease that can be kept under control for decades. For people who are infected with HIV now, as long as treatment is started early and not interrupted, they are unlikely to ever develop AIDS. Without treatment, almost all HIV positive people will eventually develop AIDS. The exception is a very small number of people who have been infected with HIV for over twenty years and have not developed AIDS, they are known as long-term nonprogressors.

7. Can HIV infection be cured?

There has been one case of a potential cure reported in the scientific literature. The case was of a patient with lymphoma (a type of blood cancer) and HIV. In an attempt to cure this cancer the patient received a stem cell transplant (a transplant of precursor blood cells). The  donor CD4 cells had a rare mutation that can prevent HIV transmission. Prior to the transplantation the patient’s own immune cells, including those infected with HIV, were eradicated using powerful drugs and radiation. The patient has remained free of HIV since this treatment occurred in 2009. This type of treatment will never be an option for the vast majority of people infected with HIV.  

8. Can you get HIV/AIDS from donating blood?

No. It is very safe to donate blood because sterile needles are used.

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