Medibank Health Directory

What is HIV AIDS?

The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) attacks the body’s immune system. If left untreated, it causes severe damage and can lead to Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS).

You become infected with HIV – and are hence HIV positive – if the virus passes into your bloodstream through things like unprotected sex, sharing contaminated needles, from mother to child during pregnancy and tattooing and piercing where equipment is unsterilised and reused.

HIV is treatable, however there is currently no cure for HIV/AIDS.

If a person gets infected with HIV, their immune system weakens and they become more susceptible to other infections and cancers. If it is not treated, it will generally progress to AIDS – although this can take several years.

Someone who has HIV may not have any symptoms, but they carry the virus and could pass it on through blood or body fluids.

Some people are more at risk of getting HIV. The main risk factors include:

  • Having unprotected sex with someone who has HIV
  • Sharing needles or syringes

It is advised that anyone who may be at risk of HIV/AIDS gets tested – particularly if you have had flu-like symptoms for over a month. Through early detection and treatment you can:

  • Stay healthy for longer
  • Delay or avoid the chances of contracting AIDS
  • Reduce the risk of spreading the infection in the community

There is no vaccine or cure for HIV or AIDS, but medication can manage HIV-related illnesses and AIDS. Unlike 30 years ago, a diagnosis of HIV/AIDS is not a death sentence – and many people with the disease go on to lead long lives. The most important thing is to stick to the treatment regime prescribed to you; and to protect others from getting the virus from you.

Symptoms of HIV/AIDS

Many of the symptoms of HIV are similar to other flus and viruses. If you have unprotected sex or share needles with other people, and suffer from any of the below symptoms for more than a month, then you should see a doctor immediately:

  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Fatigue
  • Rapid weight loss
  • A dry cough
  • Diarrhoea

See more detailed symptoms of HIV/AIDS.

Testing for HIV

A blood test can detect HIV antibodies and tell if you are infected with the virus. If a person has HIV, their body will produce antibodies to the virus. There is a short period of time (six to 12 weeks) when the antibodies against HIV can’t be detected in the blood. This is often referred to as the ‘window period’.

Causes and treatment of HIV/AIDS

Today, HIV is a worldwide epidemic.

The most common causes of HIV infection occur when blood, semen or vaginal fluid of an HIV positive person enters the body of an uninfected person – typically through unprotected sex or sharing contaminated needles. HIV-positive women can also transmit the virus to an unborn baby or breastfeeding child.

Once diagnosed with HIV, there are antiviral treatments available to help protect the immune system and increase your likelihood of leading a long life.

To avoid developing serious illnesses and preventing the onset of AIDS, it is important to stick to the treatment regime prescribed to you – even though they often have unpleasant side effects.

As part of your treatment, it is important to contact anyone you may have passed the virus on to, so they can have tests, too. This is known as contact tracing. If you don’t feel comfortable doing this yourself, there are agencies that can do it for you anonymously.

Further information and sources


This article is of a general nature only. You should always seek medical advice if you think you may have the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.