HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. It is a virus that weakens the immune system. It attacks and takes over the immune cells, using them to reproduce itself and go on to infect other cells. It is primarily transmitted in blood, semen and vaginal fluids via condomless sex or sharing injecting equipment. HIV is the virus that can cause AIDS.
HIV Fact Sheet
1. WHAT IS HIV?
2. WHAT IS AIDS?
Acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) is not a single disease. It is a diagnosis that results from a spectrum of conditions that can occur when a person’s immune system is seriously damaged after years of attack by HIV. The terms HIV and AIDS are not interchangeable, but it is possible to move in and out of an AIDS diagnosis. It is important to remember that a person who is infected with HIV does not necessarily have AIDS. However, all people with AIDS have HIV.
HIV damages the body’s immune system and renders the body vulnerable to other diseases and infections – its symptoms are most commonly similar to those of any chronic viral infection. During advanced stages of HIV infection, a person may develop any of a number of opportunistic infections considered to be AIDS defining illnesses.
3. HIV IN VICTORIA
Victoria has the second largest epidemic in Australia, behind New South Wales. In terms of transmission, HIV has largely been contained to very low rates amongst injecting drug users, sex workers and those who receive blood transfusions. Sexual transmissions amongst men who have sex with men account for the majority of infections, but transmission through heterosexual sex is slowly increasing.
Annual rates of new HIV infections in Victoria dropped from a peak in 1985 (over 500 cases) to a low in 1999 (141 cases). Since then the rate has climbed and evened out to roughly between 280-320 cases over the past three years (2013-2015). AIDS Diagnoses peaked from 1992 to 1995 (180 cases) and has evened out to roughly between 40-50 cases over the past three years (2013-2015).
HIV and AIDS are notifiable illnesses which means that the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) is notified when a new notification identified. Statistics on HIV and AIDS in Victoria are available from the DHHS.
4. HIV IN AUSTRALIA
In Australia, the number of notifications has remained relatively stable over the past four years (2012-2015) with between 1,000 to 1,080 new notifications recorded nationally. Similar to the Victorian epidemic, men who have sex with men make up the majority of these new notifications, however this changes when you look at each state or territory separately. For example, in Western Australia, the proportion is roughly 50% heterosexual and 50% male to male sex.
In relation to the diagnoses of AIDS in Australia, the pattern is similar to that of Victoria. For example, peaking around 1987 then slowly dropping to their lowest point around 1999. Statistics on AIDS diagnoses can be found at the Kirby Institute in their Annual Surveillance Reports.
5. HIV AROUND THE WORLD
The size and nature of the epidemic varies greatly from country to country. In many western countries, condomless anal sex remains the main risk category. However, in sub-Saharan Africa heterosexual vaginal sex remains the largest risk category and amongst some South-Eastern Asian countries injecting drug use is the main risk factor. Furthermore AIDS diagnosis rates also vary, depending on the availability of treatment and other factors such as stigma and financial costs. Lastly, not all countries have good reporting systems so the data may not be accurate. Statistics are available from UNAIDS.
6. HIV TREATMENTS
HIV treatment has greatly improved. Studies have shown that there is a real benefit to early treatment, the earlier the better. It is a personal decision though, and perhaps the most important factor to consider is whether you are ready to start treatment. There are a variety of effective drugs that are easy to take, meaning that treating HIV has never been simpler, and will make a real difference to your health and wellbeing. For more information visit TreatHIVnow.
7. WHO IS AT RISK OF HIV?
Sexual transmission remains the largest cause of HIV transmissions in Victoria. Amongst particular populations, Victoria has effectively contained or eliminated mother to child transmission rates as well as infection rates amongst injecting drug users, sex workers and those receiving blood transfusions.
Condomless anal and vaginal sex remains the most common way that HIV is transmitted however the majority of new HIV infections are amongst men who have sex with men. Although it must be pointed out that rates amongst heterosexual individuals is slowly on the rise.
So therefore everyone who engages in condomless penetrative sex and does not utilise biomedical prevention interventions, such as PrEP, is potentially at risk of contracting HIV.
8. HIV PREVENTION
There are more tools than ever to help prevent the transmission of HIV. The cornerstone of prevention has always been using condoms and water based lube during sex to prevent HIV transmission.
There are now additional biomedical prevention concepts, such as PrEP, that can effectively prevent HIV transmissions during condomless sex.
PEP is also available if you think you have been exposed to HIV.
In terms of injecting drugs, there are several tips that can help make injecting drug use safer and reduce the possibility of transmitting HIV or other blood borne viruses. See Safer Injecting for more information.