HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that damages the cells in your immune system and weakens your ability to fight everyday infections and disease.
AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) is the name used to describe a number of potentially life-threatening infections and illnesses that happen when your immune system has been severely damaged by the HIV virus. While AIDS cannot be transmitted from one person to another, the HIV virus can.
There is currently no cure for HIV, but there are very effective drug treatments that enable most people with the virus to live a long and healthy life.
Antiretroviral medicines are used to treat HIV. They work by stopping the virus replicating in the body, allowing the immune system to repair itself and preventing further damage. These come in the form of tablets, which need to be taken every day.
HIV is able to develop resistance to a single HIV medicine very easily, but taking a combination of different medicines makes this much less likely. It is vital these are taken every day as recommended by your doctor.
The goal of HIV treatment is to have an undetectable viral load. This means the level of HIV virus in your body is low enough to not be detected by a test. You can find out more about this on the NAM aidsmap website.
The only way to find out if you have HIV is to have a HIV test, as symptoms of HIV may not appear for many years. Anyone who thinks they could have HIV should get tested. HIV testing is provided to anyone free of charge on the NHS and many clinics can give you the result on the same day. You can also buy a test online or from some pharmacies, or order a free test from Frisky Wales.
Certain groups of people are at particularly high risk and are advised to have regular tests:
Seek medical advice immediately if you think there is a chance you could have HIV. The earlier it is diagnosed, the earlier you can start treatment and avoid becoming seriously ill.
Some HIV tests may need to be repeated 1-3 months after exposure to HIV infection, but you shouldn't wait this long to seek help. Your GP or a sexual health professional can talk to you about having a test and discuss whether you should take emergency HIV medication.
There are four main types of HIV test:
Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, or PrEP, is where you take drugs usually used to treat HIV infection, to reduce your risk of becoming infected with HIV.
PrEP is available to Welsh residents for free. You will need to meet certain criteria and have proof of Welsh residency in order to access PrEP from clinics in Wales.
PrEP is for people without HIV who are at very high risk of getting it from their sexual behaviour or their potential exposure to HIV infection, so if you are HIV negative, and don’t always use condoms, then PrEP could help reduce your risk of getting HIV. PrEP does not prevent against the transmission of other STIs – you need to use condoms to protect against STIs. To learn more please visit the Frisky Wales website.
PrEP can easily be bought online and imported into the UK, without breaking any laws. There are a number of websites where you can buy generic versions of Truvada® which are considerably cheaper. These sites can be accessed via the I Want PrEP Now website. For further information and details of how to take PrEP, you can visit this page of the I Want PrEP Now website.
Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) is a treatment used to reduce the risk of acquiring HIV infection for people who may have been exposed to HIV. This includes people who have been sexually assaulted, had unprotected sexual intercourse or shared a needle with people known to be HIV positive or at higher risk of being HIV positive.
You must start the treatment as soon as possible after you've been exposed to HIV, certainly within 72 hours and it won't usually be prescribed after this time. The medicines must be taken every day for 28 days (4 weeks). Healthcare workers who may have been exposed to the virus (e.g. through needle stick injury) are advised to contact occupational health to access PEP.
PEP makes infection with HIV less likely. However, it's not a cure for HIV and it doesn't work in all cases.
PEP is available on the NHS for free, but is only given to people who meet guidelines about its use. The best place to get PEP is a sexual health or HIV clinic. If you need PEP over the weekend or outside of office hours, when clinics will often be closed, the best place to go is an Emergency Department. Learn more about PEP on the Terrence Higgins Trust website.
We have both hospital and community based clinics across North Wales. For further details of the clinics and their opening times please select the area in which you would like to be seen: