HIV and AIDS

The number of people with HIV in the UK is rising, and gay men are one of the highest risk groups.

Get HIV support

Find your local HIV support services.

Around 83,000 people in the UK are living with HIV. According to the Health Protection Agency, around a quarter (27%) of them don’t know they have it.

Dr Valerie Deplech, an HIV expert at the Health Protection Agency, says: “We are seeing an ever-increasing pool of people living with HIV and AIDS in the UK.”

Here are the facts about HIV, including how you can protect yourself against it.

Take the sexual health self-assessment test to see if your sex life is putting you at risk.

What is HIV?

HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. The virus attacks the immune system, the body’s defence against infection and disease. This means that someone with HIV has a higher risk of getting a serious infection or disease, such as cancer.

Is HIV different from AIDS?

AIDS stands for acquired immune deficiency syndrome and refers to the late stages of HIV. The term AIDS is no longer widely used, and specialists prefer to call it advanced or late-stage HIV infection.

How do people get HIV?

HIV is spread through bodily fluids, such as semen or blood. It’s most commonly passed on during unprotected sex, including oral and anal sex. It can also be passed on through sharing sex toys.

Who gets HIV?

Anyone can get HIV if they have unprotected sex, but gay men are one of the highest risk groups. Women who have only ever had sex with women are at low risk.

Can I get HIV from kissing someone with it?

You can’t catch HIV by kissing someone. Neither can you catch it if someone with HIV sneezes on you, from sharing a bath, towels or cutlery with someone who has HIV, or by sitting on a toilet seat that someone with HIV has used.

How can I avoid getting HIV?

Using a condom during sex is the best way to avoid getting HIV, as well as other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Don’t use an oil-based lubricant as it can damage the condom, making it more likely to split. Use a water-based lubricant, such as KY Jelly, instead. 

If I get HIV, can’t I just take a few pills to make me better?

Gary Williams, from Birmingham’s Healthy Gay Life Project, says: “The reality of HIV infection is that you need blood tests every six months (sometimes more often) and you could be taking up to 12 pills a day. People are living a long time, but their quality of life is compromised.”

How can I get tested for HIV?

A simple blood test can determine whether you have HIV. It can take up to three months after infection to detect the virus, so you may need to have another test to be sure. There are various places you can get tested, including your GP surgery or a GUM (genitourinary medicine) clinic. 

When should I get a test?

If you’re a gay man and you’ve had unprotected sex, it’s important that you have a test. The Health Protection Agency recommends annual HIV testing for gay men who change sexual partners.  

What will happen if the test result is positive?

If your test is positive, you’ll be referred to an HIV clinic. HIV clinics employ professionals who specialise in helping people living with HIV. For more information, see the Health A-Z topic about Treatment for HIV. While there's no cure for HIV, there are medications that can slow its progression and prolong life.

Read the answers to more frequently asked questions about HIV and AIDs.

Now, read an article on sexual health for gay and bisexual men.

 

Page last reviewed: 09/06/2012

Next review due: 09/06/2014

Ratings

How helpful is this page?

Average rating

Based on 15 ratings

All ratings

Add your rating

Comments

Services near you

Find addresses, phone numbers and websites for services near you

Tools

HIV: Clint's story

Clint was diagnosed with HIV when he was 17. The infection progressed to AIDS within six months, which is unusually rapid. In this video, filmed in 2008, he talks about getting the diagnosis and living with AIDS. Clint died on April 4 2010, aged 31.

Media last reviewed: 20/08/2013

Next review due: 20/08/2015

Sexual health for gay and bisexual men

How to spot symptoms of a sexually transmitted infection, and information on sexual health check-ups.

Healthcare for gay men, lesbians and bisexuals

Healthcare for gay, lesbian and bisexual people, including mental and sexual health and screening.