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Title: HIV/AIDS Consumer Health Information - CPA Oct 2003
Date: 20-Nov-2003
Category: CPA

Commonwealth Pharmaceutical Association

Consumer Health Information Relating to HIV/AIDS

General Information

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is the virus that causes Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). HIV is most commonly spread by sexual intercourse without a condom and through sharing injecting equipment. Without treatment, HIV damages the immune system, making the body less able to protect itself from illness. Eventually this results in AIDS, where illnesses become so serious they are life threatening. Although there is no vaccine or cure, effective treatment can delay serious illness and improve quality of life.


HIV is found in blood, semen, vaginal fluids and breast milk. You can catch HIV by getting blood or body fluids from an infected person into your bloodstream. This can happen through:

  • Sexual intercourse (anal or vaginal) with an infected person where a condom is not used
  • Sharing needles, syringes and other drug injecting equipment
  • Mother to baby transmission during pregnancy, birth or breastfeeding
  • Blood transfusion involving unscreened and untested blood

Symptoms of AIDS

Many people with HIV/AIDS look and feel healthy. However, more than half will develop a range of symptoms as the body's immune system reacts to the virus. These may last for a few days to a few weeks and include:

Flu-like symptoms, mouth ulcers, swollen glands, recurrent fever, night sweats and chills, diarrhoea or persistent or dry cough.

These conditions can also be caused by conditions other than HIV. Only a blood test can confirm that HIV is the cause. 

After infection, many people can remain well with no symptoms for many years. However, even if someone infected with HIV has no symptoms, they can still spread the disease. Infection with HIV does not mean a person has AIDS. A diagnosis of AIDS is made only when the immune system breaks down, leading to infections and cancers.


HIV Tests

People with HIV develop antibodies (germ fighting proteins) to the virus. It can take up to three months after infection with HIV before these antibodies can be detected. The HIV antibody test is a simple blood test which shows if a person has been infected with the virus. It does not tell if a person has AIDS.

Early testing and diagnosis for HIV can be very helpful because, when people know their HIV status, they can act to take care of themselves and to avoid passing on the virus to others. If the result is positive, they can get the care and support they need for living with HIV/AIDS.

It is important that people undertake pre- and post-test voluntary counselling to help them cope with the news, to seek the treatment they need and to plan for the future.


Treatments for HIV/AIDS include medicines to:

  • Reduce the amount of virus in the body (anti-retrovirals)
  • Prevent the serious illnesses of AIDS (prophylactic and preventative drugs)
  • Treat infections and diseases that occur as part of AIDS

Medicines need to be taken regularly and frequently as missed doses can give the virus a chance to grow. Taking drug treatments for HIV/AIDS can be very complicated and have a substantial impact on lifestyle and relationships. Support from relatives, friends, carers, counsellors, other persons living with HIV/AIDS and health care workers is essential.

Self Care

  • Protect yourself against infection
  • Only have safe sex - always use a condom
  • Do not share injecting equipment and dispose of it safely
  • If you are at high risk of getting HIV, consider having an HIV test
  • If you are getting body piercing or tattoos, ensure the provider uses sterile equipment
  • If you are at high risk of HIV do not donate blood, organs or sperm

Frequently Asked Questions

Question: Can I get HIV/AIDS from a toilet seat, from sweat, salvia or tears?
Answer: No evidence has been found to suggest that anyone has contracted HIV by these means.

Question: Can I get HIV/AIDS from a mosquito or other biting insect?
Answer: No evidence has been found to suggest that anyone has contracted HIV by this means.


Commonwealth Pharmaceutical Association

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