The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a virus that attacks the immune system limiting the body’s ability to fight infections and disease.

There is no known cure for HIV, but there are treatments (1) to prevent catching the virus (within 3 days of initial exposure), and (2) to enable most people who have HIV to live a long and healthy life.

Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is the final stage of HIV infection, when the body can no longer fight life-threatening infections. With early diagnosis and treatment, those with HIV will not go on to develop AIDS.


HIV is transferred through certain body fluids of an infected person; this includes semen, vaginal and anal fluids, blood, and breast milk. It is a fragile virus that does not survive long outside the human body.

Evidence suggests the most common way of contracting HIV is by anal or vaginal sex without a condom. It is possible for HIV to spread through oral sex or shared use of sex toys, although the chances of this happening are very low. Other forms of transmission include use of contaminated injecting equipment, and transfer from mother to baby during pregnancy, birth or through breastfeeding.

HIV is not passed on through:

  • kissing
  • skin to skin contact
  • being sneezed on
  • sharing towels or cutlery
  • using the same toilets or swimming pools
  • animal or insect vectors such as mosquitoes


A few weeks after initial HIV infection flu-type symptoms will occur, this is known as the seroconversion illness. Common symptoms include:

  • a fever (raised temperature)
  • sore throat
  • body rash
  • tiredness
  • joint and muscle aches and pains
  • occasionally swollen glands (nodes)

After the initial symptoms disappear, HIV will often not cause any further symptoms for several years. During this time, known as asymptomatic HIV infection, the infection is still present and the virus continues to cause progressive damage to the immune system.

Once the immune system becomes severely damaged symptoms include:

  • weight loss
  • chronic diarrhoea
  • night sweats
  • skin problems
  • recurrent infections
  • serious life-threatening illnesses


Emergency anti-HIV medication called PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis) may stop someone becoming infected if started within three days of possible exposure to the virus. Starting PEP as soon as possible is recommended.

Although there is no cure for those with HIV, treatments can be quite effective for preventing and reducing further damage to the immune system.

Antiretrovirals are medicines that come in the form of tablets, they work by stopping the virus from replicating in the body. HIV is able to develop resistance to a single antiretroviral drug easily; therefore taking a combination of different drugs makes this much less likely. Most people with HIV take a combination of three antiretrovirals, and it is vital they are taken every day as recommended by the doctor.


The best way to prevent HIV is to use a condom and practice safe sex. It is important to never share needles or other injecting equipment.

Knowing your HIV status and that of your partner is important, therefore regular sexual health checks particularly between partners is essential.

For people with HIV, effective antiretroviral therapy significantly reduces the risk of passing HIV to sexual partners; therefore it is important to take antiretroviral medications as prescribed.

For further information:

Contact the Primary Care Centre on Tel: (+350) 200 72355
or the Infection Prevention and Control Practitioners on Tel: (+350) 200 72266 Ext: 2315