This website provides information about looking after yourself and having fun at the same time. In Australia, the gay community has been the most seriously affected by HIV. When the epidemic first hit in the 1980s, gay men made dramatic changes to their sexual practices —especially by using condoms—to protect themselves and their partners. These changes formed the beginning of a safe sex culture.
Now, over 30 years later, we know a lot more about HIV, including the ways in which it is transmitted. There are now also new ways of reducing the risk of HIV transmission. Although on average, over 1,000 people are diagnosed with HIV every year in Australia (and around three-quarters are gay men), with the new technologies at our disposal there is now a real possibility that we can reduce the number of gay men getting HIV every year and even end the HIV epidemic.
What is HIV?
HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. Since it was first identified in the 1980s, HIV has become a worldwide epidemic. As it reproduces and multiplies inside the body, HIV attacks and damages the cells of the body’s own immune system. If a person’s immune system is severely damaged by the virus, that person will develop Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). This means they are vulnerable to infections and illnesses that their body could normally fight off.
How is HIV passed on?
Only certain fluids from an HIV-infected person can transmit HIV: blood, semen (cum), pre-seminal fluid (pre-cum), rectal fluids, vaginal fluids and breast milk. For transmission to occur, these fluids must come in contact with a mucous membrane, damaged tissue or directly enter the bloodstream (e.g. from needles, syringes, and other injecting equipment). Mucous membranes can be found in parts of the body such as the rectum, the vagina, the opening of the penis, and the mouth. HIV is also present in saliva and tears, but not the amount necessary to transmit the virus to another person. Neither urine nor sweat contains HIV. You cannot get HIV from kissing, or from coffee cups or toilet seats.
When people first get infected with HIV they often get sick with a flu-like illness as the body reacts to the virus. This is called a seroconversion illness and it typically occurs 1-3 weeks after exposure to HIV. However, the symptoms are often confused with symptoms of other viral infections and therefore not recognised (by the person or their doctor) as seroconversion. The only way to tell for sure if HIV infection has occurred is to get an HIV test. When someone has been recently infected with HIV they are especially likely to pass on the virus to others—not only because they may not realise they have HIV, but also because the amount of HIV in their body is especially high in the weeks following infection. If you believe you have a seroconversion illness it is worth seeing a doctor as HIV treatments at this stage can have a range of benefits.