HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. HIV attacks the body's immune system which is the body’s defence against disease.

Without effective treatment, HIV weakens the immune system leaving the body open to infections. Some people may experience a flu-like illness a few weeks after infection, however, HIV often causes no symptoms for many years.  You can have HIV for many years and not know it, this is why we recommend getting tested for HIV if you think you may be at risk.

Over 7000 infections have been diagnosed in Scotland since the epidemic began in the early 1980s (Health Protection Scotland). It is estimated that about a quarter of people living with HIV in Scotland are unaware of their infection. Those who do not know their HIV status remain at risk to their own health and of passing the virus unwittingly onto others.

There is no cure for HIV, however,early diagnosis means we are able to monitor the virus levels and the body’s immune system, allowing us to start treatment as soon as your immune system needs help.  Effective treatment is available that slows down the progression of the virus. People who are on HIV treatment remain fit and well and can live full, healthy and active lives.

Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS)

HIV is the virus which causes AIDS..A person has AIDS when their immune system has become so weak it can no longer fight off a whole range of diseases which it would normally cope with. Early diagnosis and treatment of HIV can prevent AIDS in many cases.  In those who develop AIDS, with the correct treatment it is possible to recover, however the person will still have HIV.

How is it transmitted?

HIV can be passed on if the body fluids of someone who has HIV enters the bloodstream of someone who does not have HIV.

Body fluids that contain enough HIV to infect someone are:
• Sperm and seminal fluids
• Vaginal fluids, including menstrual fluids
• Breast milk
• Blood

Other body fluids like saliva, sweat or urine, do not have enough of the virus in them to infect other people.

You cannot get HIV through social contact such as kissing, hugging, shaking hands, sharing the same toilet, sharing crockery or cutlery.

Transmission through sex

Worldwide the majority of HIV is transmitted through unprotected sex. Anal and vaginal sex without a condom is considered a high risk transmission factor. Oral sex can also transmit HIV but is considered to be lower risk.

Consistent and proper use of condoms offers the best form of protection from HIV.

Sharing injecting equipment

Sharing needles is a high risk activity for transmission of blood borne viruses, so intravenous drug users (and those who inject steroids or other performance and image enhancing drugs) are encouraged to use their own clean needles to prevent infection. We also recommend that people do not share any drug injecting equipment including needles, syringes, water, filters, spoons, swabs, acidifiers, tourniquets and straws (for snorting drugs). For every injecting episode, new sterile equipment should be used. Needle exchange sites and some pharmacies can provide an Injecting Equipment Provision service in each locality.

Mother to baby transmission

HIV can be passed from mother to baby during birth, so all pregnant women are offered a test.

If the mother tests positive this does not mean that her baby will automatically have HIV. With the right support, guidance and treatments, the risk of mother to baby transmission can be reduced to 1%. Mothers with HIV are also strongly advised to bottle feed their babies rather than breastfeed to reduce the risk of infection.

Blood to blood

Bleeding on its own is not enough to pass on HIV infection. The blood of someone with HIV needs to leave the body and enter into the body of an uninfected person. Before 1985/6 a number of people, including some with haemophilia, were infected through blood products and transfusions. Since then all blood donations have been screened for HIV and blood products have been treated in the UK.

Getting an HIV test

You cannot tell just by looking at someone if they have HIV. The only way to diagnose HIV is to take a simple blood test. The most commonly used test available is an antibody test. The test looks for antibodies which are created by the immune system when HIV has entered the body. It can take up to three months for the body to produce enough antibodies to show up on an antibody test. This is known as the window period. If any risk activity has taken place in the 3 months before your blood test it would be advised that you should have a further HIV blood test after the window period.  It is important to remember that a person might have high levels of the virus in their bodies in this period so they could be very infectious and pass on the virus to others.
The earlier HIV is detected, the more effective treatment can be, and steps can be put in place to help avoid passing the infection on to others.

A positive result

If antibodies are found in the blood, the test result is HIV Positive. A positive result does not mean that a person has AIDS. The test does not show how ill someone is or when they are likely to become unwell. Once someone is diagnosed other tests will be carried out on a regular basis and the results of these tests will be a guiding factor on any decisions to start treatment.

A negative result

If the test does not find any antibodies, the result will be recorded as HIV negative. This means that a person does not have detectable HIV in his/her blood at the time of the test. This result would be classed as more accurate if the test is done after the window period (three months).

HIV Rapid testing

Terrence Higgins Trust Scotland now offer a Free 20min HIV test and result. For further information Tel 0141 332 3838  or email


If you have a positive HIV result, you will be referred to the Blood Borne Virus Clinic (Annanhill Suite) at Crosshouse Hospital.  The team of 3 nurses and 2 doctors will monitor the levels of virus in your blood, and your body’s immune system; and will start you on treatment when your body’s immune system needs help.  They will ensure you remain well and are on the correct medicines.  HIV infection is treated with tablets. The treatments will not cure HIV, but they can help keep the virus under control. The treatment normally comprises a combination of three active medicines (triple cocktail) that can often be combined into a single pill. Most patients receiving treatment therefore only require one pill a day.

Taking a combination of anti-HIV drugs (combination therapy) can successfully reduce the level of HIV in the blood and, in many cases, can have a dramatic effect on improving the health and life expectancy of someone living with HIV.

Annanhill Suite: 01563 821 821

For more information on HIV follow this link to Terrence Higgins Trust website or call THT direct on 0845 122 1200 or contact THT Central Office in Glasgow on 0141 332 3838 email

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