HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is an infection that weakens your immune system, meaning you’re more likely to catch other harmful infections.
HIV can be found in semen (cum), pre-cum, anal mucous, vaginal fluids and blood. You can catch or pass on HIV if any of these fluids come in contact with the top or inside of your penis, inside your anus or vagina (in women) or through any breaks in your skin.
Gay and bi-sexual men have the highest risk of becoming infected with HIV in the UK. Over 70 people are diagnosed every year in Scotland with the majority being gay or bi-sexual men. Over 5200 people are now living with HIV in Scotland.
You are at risk from HIV:
• if you have unprotected anal or vaginal sex without condoms
• if you give oral sex especially if you have cuts or sores in your mouth that could allow HIV to get into your blood - The risk from oral sex is much lower than anal sex
• if you have rough sex, long sessions, fisting and douches, which can all irritate the lining of the anus so it gets infected more easily
• if you have sex while using alcohol and/or drugs
Whether you are the receptive (“bottom” or “taking”) or active (“top” or “giving”) partner, you are still at risk of HIV if you have unprotected anal sex.
If you have an STI such as chlamydia, syphilis or gonorrhoea, then you will be more vulnerable to HIV.
How can I prevent it?
You can’t tell if someone has HIV by looking at them and at least half of all transmissions occur within a few months of a man becoming infected. Even if a person has no symptoms he can still pass on the virus. This is because he is probably unaware that he is infected and so may not use condoms.
The best way to protect yourself is to always use condoms and lubricant properly and get tested for HIV regularly. If you do have unprotected sex then consider taking PEP – See our HIV section for more info.
Early diagnosis and treatment can help prevent serious, and possibly life-threatening, illnesses. Treatment also significantly reduces the likelihood of transmitting the virus to other sexual partners.
Don’t stop using condoms in a regular relationship unless you are sure that you have both had a negative test and aren’t in the “window period”. Don’t stop using condoms if there is any chance that your partner is having other sexual partners. Some studies have shown that more than half of men get HIV from a regular partner.
How do I know if I have HIV?
1 in 4 people living with HIV don’t know they are infected and many people with HIV don’t have any symptoms so if you think you might have been at risk then get tested.
Although many people with HIV feel well most of the time, there are some symptoms that can indicate possible HIV infection.
• fever, night sweats
• mouth ulcers
• joint and muscle pain
• poor appetite
• unexplained weight loss
• chronic diarrhoea
Of course, these symptoms aren’t just associated with HIV; they could be caused by other conditions. Getting tested for HIV is the best way to find out for sure. If you are concerned about HIV, why not visit our services or order a free postal testing kit from THT Scotland.
For more information on HIV in Scotland please visit the HIV Wake Up website.