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What is it?

The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) infects and destroys key cells in the body that are a vital part of the immune system. The immune system is important because it defends the body from infection and disease.

Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) refers to a range of specific illnesses that people with HIV may get when their immune system is damaged. These illnesses include infections and cancers. The presence of HIV in the body is not an AIDS diagnosis. It is possible for people to have HIV for many years and experience no symptoms.

How do you get it?

Blood, semen or vaginal fluids, and can be passed on from:

  • unprotected sexual intercourse (anal, oral or vaginal) with an infected person
  • blood-to-blood contact with an HIV positive person
  • sharing injecting, tattooing and piercing equipment
  • a HIV positive woman to her baby during pregnancy, at birth or via breast milk.

The virus needs an entrance like a cut, scratch, abrasion, open sore, bleeding gums or be injected directly into the bloodstream through a needle or syringe with infected blood in it.

What is the risk of getting HIV from:

Deep kissing: Very low risk needing both people to have open cuts or sores. Don’t brush or floss your teeth beforehand.

Oral Sex:
Low risk when you use condoms and dams—increased risk if unprotected oral. The risk may also increase if the gums are bleeding and/or cuts are present in the mouth. Don’t brush or floss your teeth beforehand.

Hand relief:
Very low risk—cover any open cuts or sores. Make sure the penis is directed away from your eyes if a condom is not used. Eye sockets are lined with a mucous membrane the virus can penetrate.

Very low risk—cover any open cuts or sores. Make sure the penis is directed away from your eyes if a condom is not used. Eye sockets are lined with a mucous membrane the virus can penetrate.

Signs and symptoms

People who become infected with HIV develop antibodies, which are proteins the body makes to fight infections. Antibodies to HIV can usually be detected within six to twelve weeks after infection. These antibodies can be detected by a blood test. Just because someone is HIV antibody positive does not mean they have AIDS, but they carry the virus and could pass it on through blood or by unprotected sexual intercourse.

The presence of other STIs, especially genital ulcers, makes it easier to pass on and catch HIV.

Testing for HIV

It is good practice to have a discussion before and after you have your HIV blood test so that you are fully informed about the test and possible consequences. It is recommended to have an HIV test every six months or earlier if you have been exposed. The results are confidential, but if you become HIV positive, you are obliged under the law to inform any potential sexual partner of your HIV status prior to having sex.


There is presently no vaccine or cure for HIV/AIDS. Antiviral medications known as HAART (highly active anti-retroviral therapy) are available that suppresses HIV and keeps people well for longer.

For more information on HIV tests and treatments, contact SWOP on 02-9206-2166 or visit the AFAO website.

PEP (Post Exposure Prophylaxis)

If you think you may have been exposed to HIV you should consider getting PEP. PEP is a four-week course of anti-HIV drugs that may prevent HIV infection, provided the treatment is started as soon as possible and within 72 hours (three days) of the possible exposure.

To get PEP contact your local sexual health centre, hospital emergency department or the 24-hour PEP hotline: 1800 737 669 (1800 PEP NOW).

For more information about HIV and PEP, visit NSW Health 


Consistent and proper use of condoms and lube during intercourse (anal or vaginal) will significantly reduce the risk HIV transmission.

Opt for safe sexual activities including masturbation, hand relief, touching, voyeurism, kissing (provided there are no cuts or sores present), body-to-body rubbing and erotic massage.