This section will attempt to answer some general questions you might have about HIV and AIDS. To learn more about HIV and the Law or HIV and Human Rights please see our Legal FAQs .
- What is HIV?
- What is AIDS?
- How can you get HIV?
- How Can I protect myself from HIV?
- How long does it take for a person to develop AIDS after contracting HIV?
- If you are HIV+ will you always develop AIDS?
- How does the HIV test work?
- Why should I get an HIV test?
- Can you cure HIV?
- Is ART Treatment widely available in the Pacific?
HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus and it is the virus that causes AIDS.
H – Human: Only humans get HIV, it can not pass through animals or mosquitoes.
I – Immunodeficiency: It attacks our immune system, weakening it and making it deficient.
V – Virus: It is a virus, an illness that we are infected with.
HIV attacks the body's immune system - our internal defence system that keeps our bodies healthy against infections like colds and flu. When HIV attacks it weakens our body making us unable to fight of these infections. When you are diagnosed with HIV you are called: HIV positive.
AIDS stands for acquired immuno-deficiency syndrome, it is the late stage of infection caused by HIV. A person with HIV can look and feel healthy for a long time before they develop AIDS.
A - Acquired: It's a condition one must acquire or get infected with; not something hereditary.
I - Immune: It affects the body's immune system, the part of the body which fights off infections.
D - Deficiency: It makes the immune system deficient (it stops working properly).
S - Syndrome: AIDS is a collection of different diseases, symptoms and opportunistic infections.
Over time HIV damages the immune system to the point that the body becomes vulnerable to infections that a person with a healthy immune system would be able to fight off – things like pneumonia, diarrhea and tumours. These infections are called opportunistic infections and become more frequent as your immune system weakens. If you catch an opportunistic infection, or if your white blood cell count drops to 100, you are diagnosed with AIDS.
Anti-retroviral Treatment can slow down how fast HIV develops and weakens your body, but there is no cure for HIV or AIDS.
For someone to become infected, body fluid containing HIV must get into his or her blood. The body fluids that contain enough HIV to infect someone are blood, semen, vaginal fluids including menstrual blood, and breast milk.
The most common way HIV is transmitted is through:
- unprotected sexual intercourse (sex without a condom),
- sharing needles with an injecting drug user who has HIV,
- using an unclean needle at a tattoo parlour,
- blood transfusions with infected blood, or
- HIV positive mothers infecting their babies through breastfeeding or during pregnancy/delivery.
You cannot get HIV through day-to-day contact. Things like sharing cups or meals, shaking hands, hugging and playing sports will not pass HIV. Saliva, sweat and urine do not contain enough virus to infect someone.
Since HIV only passes through direct contact of blood or certain body fluids to someone else’s blood, and there are only three routes of transmission (mother to child transmission, blood exchange or unprotected sex) it is easy to protect ourselves from HIV. In the Pacific, most advocates recommend the A,B,C,D theory:
A – Abstain: Abstain from sex, or delay having sex.
B – Be faithful: Be faithful to one partner, but they must also be faithful to you!
C – Condoms: Use a condom every time, and use it correctly.
D – Do Other Things: There are many other things to do, like kissing, masturbation, hugging, playing that have no risk of HIV infection.
The other way to protect yourself is to follow universal precautions: do not touch blood without wearing gloves, do not share needles (one needle, one person OR proper sterilization), have safe protected sex, get tested!
It takes anywhere from 2 to 12 years depending on your health.
Yes. Unfortunately HIV always leads to AIDS. AIDS is the later development of the disease.
The most common test is an HIV-antibody test. Antibodies are produced by the body’s immune system in response to the presence of an infection, they help fight the infection. The HIV-antibody test looks for those antibodies.
This test can not accurately determine HIV infection until three months after you have been infected because the immune system takes from 6 weeks to 3 months to produce enough antibodies to show up on an HIV test. This gap of time where status is unknown is called the “window period” or seroconversion.
There are other tests referred to as “rapid tests” but these are expensive and less widely available.
When you go to get an HIV test remember that the test should be Voluntary, Confidential, and the doctor should provide some counselling before and after the testing.
Anyone who has done something that has put themselves at risk – unprotected sex, a tattoo where you are uncertain if a clean needle was used,
There is no vaccine or cure for HIV.
However, treatment is available. Taking a combination of anti-HIV drugs (combination therapy or anti-retroviral therapy, ARVs) can slow down the damaging effect of HIV on the immune system. When combination therapy is successful, it can improve the health of someone with HIV, making them less likely to develop AIDS or “AIDS-defining conditions” and prolonging their life expectancy.
Not really. Only French Polynesia and New Caledonia have access, although there is limited access in Fiji, Samoa and Papua New Guinea. In some countries, HIV positive people must go to a neighbouring country to receive treatment – like to New Zealand or New Caledonia.
The Global Fund for AIDS, TB and Malaria helps to fund 30 people around the Pacific Islands receive treatment.