HIV and AIDS FAQs

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  • Am I going to die of AIDS?

    While complications from HIV infection remain a possibility, current treatments and medications are giving people with HIV a positive prognosis and near-normal life-span. This makes patients living with HIV vulnerable to the same health conditions that affect all people as they age. This is why it is important to maintain good health throughout your life.

  • Are there any side-effects from taking PrEP?

    Many medicines can have side-effects, so taking pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) has to be a considered decision. The drugs in PrEP have been used as part of HIV treatment for many years. Evidence over the years has shown that they have a low risk of serious side-effects. Most people taking PrEP do not report side-effects. Some people have stomach problems, headaches and tiredness during the first month but these usually go away.

    People taking PrEP (on trial) have regular check-ups at a clinic, where they will be tested to ensure any side-effects are assessed.

  • Can HIV be transmitted through an insect bite?

    No, Insects can not transmit HIV. Research has shown that HIV does not replicate or survive well in insects. In addition, blood-eating insects digest their food and do not inject blood from the last person they bite into the next person.

  • Can I get HIV from hot tubs or steam rooms?

    No, HIV does not survive outside the body and fluids like sweat and saliva that are typically secreted during these activities have never been shown to transmit HIV.

  • Can I get HIV from kissing?

    No. You can't get HIV from casually kissing someone (or vice versa) who has HIV. Skin is a greater barrier against HIV. It is not recommended to engage in long, open mouth kissing (“French kissing”) with someone who has HIV if one of you has an open sore in or around the mouth.

  • Can I get HIV from sharing a cup or shaking hands with someone who has HIV or AIDS?

    HIV is found only in body fluids, so you cannot get HIV by shaking someone’s hand or giving them a hug (or by using the same toilet or towel). While HIV is found in saliva, sharing cups or utensils has never been shown to transmit HIV.

    How to avoid HIV

  • Do all people with HIV have AIDS?

    No. Being diagnosed with HIV does not mean a person will also be diagnosed with AIDS. Healthcare professionals diagnose AIDS only when people with HIV disease begin to get severe opportunistic infections (OI), or their T-cell counts fall below a certain level.

  • Does abstinence include anal sex?

    Abstinence from sex means not engaging in any form of sexual activity where there is a risk of exchanging fluids (semen, vaginal fluids, rectal mucous). This includes anal, oral, and vaginal sex.

  • How effective are latex condoms in preventing HIV?

    Latex condoms, when used consistently and correctly, are highly effective in preventing HIV. Research on the effectiveness of latex condoms in preventing HIV transmission is both comprehensive and conclusive.

    Condoms

  • How effective is PrEP?

    Research suggests that pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is highly effective in preventing HIV transmission, as long as the pills are taken as directed.

    In a large international study, gay men who took at least four doses a week had 96 per cent fewer infections. Results from separate studies of PrEP in the UK and France have both showed that PrEP substantially reduces infections among gay men. The UK and the French study reported that there was an 86 per cent reduction in the rate of HIV infection when PrEP was made available.

    ​PrEP has also proven effective for heterosexual couples in which one partner is HIV positive but only when it was taken on a daily basis.

  • How soon after potential exposure can you accurately test for HIV?

    If you think you have put yourself at risk of HIV, you should seek medical advice and get tested. The earlier HIV is diagnosed, the earlier you can start treatment and avoid becoming ill. However, it may be two weeks or more after exposure to HIV before a test provides accurate results.

    Testing for HIV

    If you’ve had sex with somebody who may be HIV positive, you can reduce your chances of HIV infection by taking post-exposure prophylaxis after sexual exposure (PEPSE) within 72 hours of exposure to the virus.

    PEPSE

  • I had sex with someone I think might have HIV, and the condom broke. What should I do?

    If it’s been less than 72 hours since the condom broke, you may be able to take medication that could keep you from getting infected with HIV, even if your partner is HIV-positive. This medication is called post-exposure prophylaxis after sexual exposure to HIV (PEPSE).

    More on PEPSE

    If it’s been longer than 72 hours, PEPSE will not protect you from HIV, and you will need to explore HIV testing options. In most cases, you will have to wait at least 2 weeks after possible exposure to infection before an HIV test can provide accurate results.

  • If I am diagnosed with HIV, can I tell when I got it?

    In general no. A skilled healthcare provider can generally estimate how long you have been infected by looking at the levels of virus in your body, your T-cell count, and whether or not you have had any opportunistic infections. If you are currently suffering from symptoms of acute HIV infection, a healthcare provider can usually conclude that infection occurred within the past few weeks.

  • If I am diagnosed with HIV, can you tell who gave me the infection?

    No. HIV diagnostic tests cannot determine who passed the infection to the negative partner.

  • Is PrEP an option for everyone?

    No, pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) will not be suitable for everyone. People who are not at high risk of exposure to HIV would not need to take PrEP.

    The medication may also cause side-effects which may cause some people to decide not to continue with the treatment.

  • Is PrEP equally effective for all groups?

    To date, there have been variable results in some groups. However, not all groups have been fully studied and so effectiveness cannot be determined.

  • What are the long-term effects of taking PrEP?

    The long-term effects of taking pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) are not understood fully as yet, as most clinical trials only take place over a few years. Reductions in bone mineral density and kidney health have been reported in some HIV positive people taking Truvada as part of their long-term treatment for HIV. However, this may result from the virus itself.

  • What are the next steps to making PrEP available on the NHS?

    While NHS England is not responsible for commissioning HIV prevention services, they are committed to working with local authorities, Public Health England, the Department of Health and other stakeholders as further consideration is given to making pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) available for HIV prevention.

    Specifically, given the potential benefits in this area, NHS England is keen to build on the work to date and will be making available up to £2m over the next two years (2016/17 – 2017/18) to run a number of early implementer test sites.

    The successful applications will be confirmed by June 2016.

  • What is PrEP?

    Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is a new way of using anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs) – usually used for treating people with diagnosed HIV – to stop those at very highest risk from contracting the virus.

    Recent evidence – including from the UK PROUD study and the French IPERGAY study – shows this approach can be highly effective in preventing HIV infection as long as the drugs are taken regularly when people are at risk.

    UK PROUD study

    Evidence of effectiveness is strongest for men who have sex without a condom with multiple male partners.

    So far, published studies suggest that PrEP does not lead to increases in other sexually transmitted infections, although this and other areas of concern will need to be monitored as PrEP comes into use.

  • Where can I be tested for HIV?

    All Umbrella clinics can test you for HIV.

    Find a clinic Book an appointment

    If you're 16 or over and living in Birmingham in Solihull, you can get tested for free from home with one of our self-sampling kits.

    STI self-sampling kits

  • Who can access PrEP now and in the future?

    It is anticipated that the clinical trial phase will include at least 10,000 participants over the next three years. NHS England will fully fund the cost of the clinical trial phase and will work in partnership with local authorities, the Local Government Association and Public Health England to implement the findings as part of a wider national rollout.

    Detailed planning will now take place to ensure the launch and the clinical trial phase can begin as swiftly as possible. Up to £10 million will be made available over the next three years to fund all aspects of the trial. Next steps will include asking both the manufacturer of the branded PrEP drug Truvada, as well as generic manufacturers to make proposals to participate in the trial.

  • Will taking PrEP result in developing resistance to antiretroviral treatment?

    Concerns have been expressed that the use of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) may lead to the spread of resistance, following data from animal studies. However, a recent study has suggested that resistance is only likely if someone has contracted HIV at around the same time they start taking PrEP. This is because Truvada must be used in conjunction with other HIV medication to treat the infection.

  • Is PrEP available on the NHS in England?

    NHS England and Public Health England have announced a three-year long clinical trial involving at least 10,000 participants to establish how to get the drugs to the right people, how popular it would be and for how long they would take PrEP.

    It follows the recent Court of Appeal ruling that NHS England, alongside local authorities, has the power, although not the obligation, to fund the provision of PrEP.

    The first phase of implementation will be the launch of a large scale clinical trial in early financial year 2017/18. Umbrella has welcomed the initiative and will be aiming to be involved in the trial.

    Although the evidence around the clinical effectiveness of PrEP is strong, advice from Public Health England has highlighted significant outstanding implementation questions that should be answered prior to using PrEP in a sustained way on a substantial scale in England. These questions will be answered by the clinical trial, paving the way for full rollout.

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