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Information on HIV

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a virus that attacks the human immune system and weakens its ability to fight infection and disease.

It is important to understand how HIV is transmitted and how it can be prevented.

If you do test positive for HIV, early treatment will keep you healthy and prevent HIV being transmitted to others.

HIV

HIV Information Leaflet

Copies can be ordered for free through healthpromotion.ie

HIV transmission

HIV is transmitted:
  • through having sex without a condom (vaginal, anal) with someone who is HIV positive and not on effective HIV treatment*
  • vary rarely through oral sex without a condom with someone who is HIV positive and not on effective HIV treatment* (this risk is extremely low)
  • through sharing needles or injecting equipment with someone who is HIV positive and not on effective HIV treatment*
  • during pregnancy, delivery or breastfeeding from mother to child where the mother is not on effective HIV treatment*
  • through contaminated blood products (very unlikely in Ireland as all blood donations are tested)
*Effective HIV treatment

When a person living with HIV is on treatment and the level of virus (viral load) in the body is so low that it cannot be detected (is 'undetectable'), HIV cannot be transmitted to sexual partners. This is also known as 'undetectable' equals 'untransmittable' (U=U).                                                                                                                         

HIV cannot be transmitted through:
  • touching, hugging or kissing
  • coughing or sneezing
  • sharing a glass, cup, cutlery or other utensils
  • saliva, sweat or urine
  • sharing a public toilet

HIV stigma

HIV related stigma can happen when misconceptions about HIV lead to negative attitudes towards people living with HIV or misunderstandings about what it means to receive a HIV diagnosis.

HIV related stigma can affect the mental wellbeing of people who are living with HIV. Fear of being discriminated against or judged negatively can prevent people living with HIV from disclosing their status or getting the necessary treatment for HIV.

HIV related stigma can also deter people who may have been exposed to HIV from testing because they fear getting a positive result.

Understanding how HIV is and is not transmitted can help reduce misconceptions that lead to HIV stigma and encourage early testing and treatment for HIV. It is important to understand the medical advances in HIV treatment; that people on effective treatment can live a long and healthy life and cannot transmit HIV to partners. This is also known as 'undetectable' equals 'untransmittable' (U=U).

HIV symptoms

Some people get a flu-like illness when they first become infected with HIV. If you have flu-like symptoms after a potential exposure to HIV, you should go for a HIV test.

Many people are often unaware that they have HIV because they may not feel sick right away or for many years after being infected. If you have had any risk for HIV, it is important to get tested.

HIV testing

Knowing your HIV status allows you to get the information you need to keep you and your partner (or partners) healthy.

  • Having a HIV test and knowing that you do not have HIV can encourage you to take measures to stay HIV negative.
  • If you test positive for HIV you can get the essential treatment and care to live a healthy life and prevent transmission to your partner (or partners)

HIV is diagnosed with a blood test. HIV testing is available in many health care settings including STI clinics, GPs and student health clinics. A list of free public STI/HIV testing services is available here.

Many NGOs offer HIV testing in Ireland, including rapid HIV testing in community venues. Information on HIV testing available through NGO's is available here.

Home testing is also available in Ireland and you can purchase a HIV test in a pharmacy. For more information ask your pharmacist.

HIV prevention

There are many effective ways to reduce your risk of getting HIV. These include:

  • using condoms every time you have vaginal or anal sex
  • not sharing sex toys, or using condoms if you do
  • not sharing needles or other injecting equipment, including spoons, filters and water
  • taking post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) if you have been exposed to HIV
  • taking pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) if you are at substantial risk
  • getting tested and knowing your HIV status

For more information on condom use click here

HIV Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP)

PrEP stands for pre-exposure prophylaxis. PrEP is taken by HIV negative people before having sex (pre-exposure) and after sex, to prevent HIV (this is called prophylaxis).

PrEP has been shown in many studies to be safe and highly effective at preventing HIV. When taken correctly PrEP has been found to be about 99% effective.

PrEP is the newest HIV prevention tool available and is best used in combination with other HIV prevention measures.

PrEP is available through the HSE free of charge to those who are considered to be at substantial risk of contracting HIV through sex.

More information for service users is available on here

Information for service providers is available here

HIV Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP)

HIV post exposure prophylaxis (PEP) is a course of HIV medication that aims to prevent HIV infection following a recent exposure to HIV, such as through condomless sex, sharing needles or pricking yourself with an infected needle.

PEP must be started within 72 hours (3 days and nights) after a possible exposure to HIV, and sooner if possible. A full course of PEP is for 28 days (4 weeks).

PEP is available in many STI clinics. If it is not possible to get PEP from your STI clinic within 72 hours, PEP can be accessed in a number of emergency departments.

The list of locations where PEP is available in Ireland is here

Guidelines for the Emergency Management of Injuries and Post-exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) (including needlestick and sharps injuries, sexual exposure and human bites) where there is a risk of transmission of bloodborne viruses and other infectious diseases, are available at http://www.hpsc.ie/a-z/EMIToolkit/.

HIV treatment

HIV can be treated effectively with antiretroviral medications. HIV treatment stops HIV reproducing in the body.  When taken properly, HIV treatment enables most people with HIV to live a long and healthy life.

When taken properly, HIV treatment reduces the chance of a person living with HIV passing HIV on to someone else. When a person living with HIV takes their treatment properly, so that they achieve and maintain an undetectable viral load, there is effectively no risk that HIV can be passed on to their sexual partners.

HSE Position on Antiretroviral Therapy

HSE Position on Antiretroviral Therapy for all people living with HIV (July 2017)

The HSE recommend that all people living with HIV attending HIV services in Ireland are offered antiretroviral therapy and informed of the benefits of antiretroviral therapy in improving their personal health and reducing HIV infectiousness.