What is HIV

What is HIV

“HIV” stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. To understand what that means, let’s break it down:

  • Human – This particular virus can only infect human beings.
  • Immunodeficiency – HIV weakens your immune system by destroying important cells that fight disease and infection. A "deficient" immune system can't protect you.
  • Virus – A virus can only reproduce itself by taking over a cell in the body of its host.

HIV is a lot like other viruses, including those that cause the "flu" or the common cold. But there is an important difference – over time, your immune system can clear most viruses out of your body. That isn't the case with HIV – the human immune system can't seem to get rid of it. That means that once you have HIV, you have it for life.

We know that HIV can hide for long periods of time in the cells of your body and that it attacks a key part of your immune system – your T-cells or CD4 cells. Your body has to have these cells to fight infections and disease, but HIV invades them, uses them to make more copies of itself, and then destroys them.

Over time, HIV can destroy so many of your CD4 cells that your body can't fight infections and diseases anymore. When that happens, HIV infection can lead to what used to be called AIDS, the final stage of HIV infection

However, not everyone who has HIV progresses to AIDS. With proper treatment, called “antiretroviral therapy” (ART), you can keep the level of HIV in your body low. ART is the use of HIV medicines to fight HIV infection. It involves taking a combination of HIV medicines every day. These HIV medicines can control the virus so that you can live a longer, healthier life and reduce the risk of transmitting HIV to others. Before the introduction of ART in the mid-1990s, people with HIV could progress to AIDS in just a few years. Today, a person who is diagnosed with HIV and treated before the disease is far advanced can have a nearly normal life expectancy.

No safe and effective cure for HIV currently exists, but scientists are working hard to find one, and remain hopeful. (Source: AIDS.gov)

HIV is a lifelong condition. Whilst there is no cure there are treatments that mean you can live a long and healthy life. It is important to monitor the virus and have regular check ups with your doctor. They can advise you about the best time to start treatment and monitor you through this process. There are also a range of services who can support you, including BGF.

Please see our links page for more information. In NSW you must disclose your HIV status to your sexual partners, even when having safe sex. You can find more information about this at the HIV/AIDS Legal Centre (HALC).


How HIV is Managed

HIV medications and treatments have significantly changed the course of HIV infection since the early days of the epidemic. With daily medication, regular laboratory monitoring, regular medical check ups and lifestyle changes (e.g., exercise, adequate sleep, smoking cessation), HIV can be manageable as a chronic disease. People living with HIV can enjoy healthy lives. (source AIDS.gov)

Learn more about our Take Control of Your Health workshops.


People Living with HIV in NSW and Australia

The Kirby Institute’s Annual Surveillance Report 2014 Supplement reported an estimated 26,800 people were living with the HIV infection in Australia.

At BGF, we aim to improve physical and mental health for every one who walks through our doors.