What You Need To Know About HIV and AIDS

I have just returned from an intensive week of university completing my post graduate studies in Sexology and have so many things to share, I don’t know where to start!! Throughout the week, we explored a range of topics ranging from gender and sexual identity to paraphilia’s and BDSM. The intention for the intensive week was to explore our personal assumptions, judgements and beliefs regarding sexual health and human sexual expression. For someone who thought she was already educated in this field, it was invaluable experience to know there is so much more out there to know!

As I write this, I am listening to Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen which reminds me of one topic in particular which I find so important to share. The lead singer of Queen, Freddie Mercury, died on the 24th of November, 1991, due to complications associated with Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS). According to The World Health Organisation, his death was just one of over 35 million deaths associated with this illness since the early 1980’s outbreak, with 70 million people having contracted Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) in this time.

So much has changed since the early days of HIV. Being infected with HIV used to be a death sentence, now thanks to advancements in treatment options, HIV positive individuals can live a long and healthy life. I wish to share some information that I believe is so important for all people to understand. It is obvious to me that in our society, there still exists a strong stigma and lack of education regarding HIV and AIDS. This lack of education can lead to wrong assumptions and unhealthy judgements for people living with HIV so I hope this article can shed some light on the reality of HIV and AIDS.

HIV is a blood borne virus that attacks the body’s immune system. If a person contracts HIV and does not seek treatment, the virus can develop into AIDS, which is the later stage of HIV infection and leaves an individual susceptible to opportunistic infections. Developing AIDS leads to a significantly lower life expectancy. Luckily treatment for HIV in Australia is readily available and the large majority of people who have contracted HIV will not develop AIDS.


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Photo: PrEP – What You Need To Know About HIV/AIDS


HIV can be contracted from semen, pre-ejaculate, vaginal fluids, rectal fluids, breast milk or blood. If any of these bodily fluids of a HIV positive individual enter the blood stream of another, there is a varied risk of contracting the virus depending on their viral loading (Viral loading being the level of HIV detectable in the blood).

This virus can be spread in many ways, the most common ways include anal sex, vaginal sex and intravenous drug use. Just to be clear, you can not contract HIV from the following: Air, water, mosquitoes, ticks, insects, saliva, tears, sweat that is not mixed with the blood of a HIV-positive person, shaking hands, hugging, sharing toilets, sharing dishes/drinking glasses, closed-mouth or “social” kissing with someone who is HIV-positive, drinking fountains and other sexual activities that don’t involve the exchange of body fluids (For example, touching).

As is with all sexually transmitted infections and BBV’s, abstinence is the only 100% effective way to avoid contracting HIV. I am a realist and understand that with many people, abstinence from sexual activity is not a healthy option. Luckily there are many extremely effective precautions that can be implemented into your sexual experiences so that your chance of contracting HIV is diminished.

Taking precautions such as using condoms with oral, vaginal and anal sex, getting tested regularly and avoiding contact with bodily fluids are some effective ways to avoid contracting HIV including the use of PrEP and PEP.

PrEP (Pre-exposure prophylaxis) is an antiretroviral drug taken by HIV negative people to prevent HIV infection. It is becoming more readily available to certain demographics in Australia who are at greater risk of HIV, in particular for men who have sex with men. Talk to you doctor or discuss with a health care professional at a sexual health clinic for more information.

PEP (Post-exposure prophylaxis) is a 4-week course of an antiretroviral drug taken after potential exposure to HIV. It must be taken within 72 hours of exposure for it to be effective and is best taken as soon as possible within this time frame. It can be prescribed from Emergency Departments and sexual health clinics across Australia.

For those diagnosed with HIV, antiretroviral drugs are the most common treatment option. These drugs work by keeping the viral loading of the drug (viral loading being the level of HIV in the blood) down. These drugs are so advanced that the viral load of individuals taking them as prescribed can be undetectable. This means that the chance of these people transmitting HIV to another person is extremely low.

HIV is not a death sentence like it used to be. Despite being a virus that will stay with an individual for life, there is extremely effective treatment available in Australia which means a person with HIV can be undetectable and completely healthy.

Have safe sex to avoid being infected with an STI or BBV is extremely important for all sexually active individuals.  For more information, I highly recommend checking out the Ending HIV website and the Family Planning NSW website. There can be so much misleading information out there, it is important to learn from reputable sources.



Author: Stephanie Curtis- BA Nursing








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