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Human Immunodeficiency Virus is a lentivirus that causes AIDS, a condition in humans where a weakened immune system allows life-threatening infections and cancers to swarm the body. Through the transfer of blood, semen, vaginal fluid, pre-ejaculate, or breast milk, HIV is able to be passed along to another person. Within these bodily fluids, HIV will be present as both free virus particles and a virus within infected immune cells. The 1st stage of HIV is known as primary HIV infection. Many people develop symptoms, but might not recognise them. The symptoms of HIV usually occur 2 to 6 weeks after infected with HIV.

Symptoms of primary HIV infection:

  • A blotchy rash
  • Fever
  • Joint pain
  • Muscle pain
  • Sore throat
  • Swollen glands
  • Tiredness

These symptoms are often very mild, so it is easily mistaken for a cold or glandular fever. However, it is unusual to get these symptoms in conjunction with a rash, so if you are concerned about the risk of HIV infection you should request a test from your GP.

After the primary symptoms have dissipated, HIV will often not cause any further symptoms for many years. This is known as asymptomatic HIV infection. However during this time, the virus will still be reproducing and is continuing to damage your immune system.


If you are diagnosed with HIV, you will be referred to an HIV clinic and be offered counselling. You will need to undergo regular blood tests as part of your treatment.

The tests are used to measure your CD4 count (this is the number of CD4 cells in your blood) and your viral load (this is the amount of HIV in your blood).

This allows the HIV clinic to see the progression of the disease and judge the likelihood that you will develop a HIV-related infection.

As a general rule:

  • A CD4 count of 500 or above - no risk of HIV-related infection
  • A CD4 count of less than 200 - high risk of serious HIV-related infection

There is no cure or vaccine for HIV. However, combination therapy slows the progression of the virus and can prolong life. A combination of medicines is needed because of the adaptive nature of the virus, as it can become resistant to the medication.

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This website contains general information about medical conditions and treatments. The information is not advice, and should not be treated as such. Please read our medical disclaimer.