5 things about HIV you need to know this World AIDS Day

29 November 2019

Ahead of World AIDS Day 2019 (1 December), we ask you: do you know your HIV basics? We count down five things you need to know.

World AIDS Day 2019 – Know your HIV basics

1.    What is HIV?

Let’s get straight to the point. HIV is a virus that attacks the immune system, the very thing that stops us from getting sick.

Some people use the terms HIV and AIDS as if they were the same, but they’re actually quite different. While HIV is a virus, AIDS is a set of symptoms and illnesses that occur because the immune system is seriously damaged by HIV. Today, most people living with HIV don’t go on to develop AIDS.

2.    How do you get HIV?

The body fluids where HIV can be found are in the blood, semen, breastmilk, vaginal fluid and anal mucous. It can be passed on when these fluids enter into another person’s body – through sex, for example.

However, if a person living with HIV is taking treatment and they are ‘undetectable’ – meaning the virus exists in such low amounts that tests can’t see it – they can’t pass it on! Undetectable = Untransmittable, or U=U!

There are three simple and effective ways to keep yourself HIV-free:

•    Use condoms
•    Take PrEP, also known as pre-exposure prophylaxis. It’s a treatment that prevents transmission and is recommended for people who may be at a greater risk of acquiring HIV.
•    Don’t share injecting equipment.

3.    What’s involved in testing for HIV?

Testing for HIV is easy, confidential, and almost always free. But did you know that in 2018, 21% of the people living with HIV didn’t know they had it? Testing for HIV gives you the freedom to know your status and live your life – whatever the result.

Many people living with HIV don’t have any symptoms, so getting tested is the only way to know if you have HIV.

4.    How does HIV treatment work?

With effective HIV treatment, known as antiretroviral treatment (ART), people living with HIV can lead long, healthy lives.

ART consists of a combination of drugs that stops the virus from replicating and damaging the immune system. It’s the only way to keep HIV under control. With it, many people reach ‘undetectable’ viral loads in their body, and remember, Undetectable = Untransmittable (U=U).

5.    What are some common myths?

There are many myths that surround HIV and AIDS. But these are based on wrong information and play on people’s fear of the unknown.

For example, herbal medicines can’t cure HIV, nor will they keep you healthy. You also can’t get HIV from sharing cutlery or kissing. Showering after sex, or having sex with a virgin, won’t stop HIV either.

Incorrect HIV information stops people testing for HIV because they fear what will happen to them, which is where a lot of stigma comes from. But with testing, people can get treatment, which means that a person living with HIV doesn’t change who they are or what they can achieve in life.


This video summarises most of what you can find in out five-video explainer series, HIV: the basics. Check out our World AIDS Day page to watch the full series!

Written by Julia Dotras

Communications and Campaigns