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HEALTH HIV FOR BEGINNERS


Over 30 years after the epidemic began, a frightening level of ignorance still remains among some gay men. Out In The City arms you with the basic facts on HIV...


Everyone knows about HIV and AIDS, right? Actually, no, they don’t. If you’ve been out on the gay scene for a few years, you may well have been exposed to a wealth of safer sex information, but for many gay men new to the scene, or exploring their sexuality for the first time, there is still a worrying level of ignorance. Whether you’ve never received any information, or think you know it all, here’s an opportunity to remind yourself of the basics…


What is HIV? HIV stands for ‘Human Immunodeficiency Virus’. It is a virus which attacks the immune system. A person infected with HIV may not show any signs of being ill for as long as ten years, but during this time the virus can wreak havoc on the immune system. HIV treatment halts this process and helps a person with HIV stay healthy; but without treatment, a person may develop illnesses – eventually leading to an AIDS diagnosis (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). A person can still be treated for AIDS and become healthy again with the right medical help, but for some it may be fatal.


AIDS was first identified in the early 1980s. No effective treatment for HIV was introduced until the mid- 1990s. Up until that time, the prognosis for anyone diagnosed with HIV was bleak, but since the mid-90s, and the introduction of anti-retroviral therapy, the prognosis for anyone with HIV is better. A person diagnosed early is expected to live a and a near-normal lifespan but the longer undiagnosed, the more


passive partner (the guy getting fucked) or from the passive to active partner (the guy doing the fucking), which is why it’s always important to wear a condom. HIV can also be transmitted through vaginal sex, or through any activity where blood may be exchanged, such as the sharing of hypodermic needles by drug users.


Can you get HIV through giving or receiving oral sex? HIV can be transmitted through oral sex but the risk is far less than transmission through anal sex. To minimise this risk further, it’s sensible not to give oral sex if you or your partner has any cuts or sores in your mouth, or bleeding gums. It’s also considered safer if someone doesn’t cum in your mouth.


damage HIV can do.


Are there any signs of being infected with


HIV?


When a person is infected with HIV, a process called


‘seroconversion’ takes place around 1-2 weeks after infection (which is the virus taking hold of the body and the body reacting). During this time, 70-90% of people experience severe flu-like symptoms that usually include a sore throat, fever and rash on the chest. They may also experience nausea, fatigue, headache and diarrhoea. If you


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experience these symptoms, and have recently had unprotected sex, you should have an HIV test as soon as possible. These symptoms will then go away after a week or so, and a person may then have no visible signs of having HIV until they become seriously ill.


How is HIV passed on? HIV is transmitted through the exchange of body fluids with someone who is already infected. The virus is fragile and cannot survive outside the body for long. The most common route of transmission is sexual. For gay men, anal sex without a condom poses the greatest risk. HIV can be passed from the active to


How risky is it to have sex with an HIV-positive person? If a person is diagnosed with HIV and is receiving treatment, the level of virus in their body will be greatly reduced (clinically referred to as an ‘undetectable viral load’); this means the risk of passing on HIV to another person is low. However, HIV treatment should not necessarily be viewed as a replacement for condoms and there are a range of factors to consider. A person with HIV can discuss these with their doctor to gain more information. If a person has HIV but doesn’t know their status, the level of HIV in their body is likely to be very high, particularly if they are recently infected, as the level of HIV virus in the body peaks and there is a high risk of passing HIV on to a sexual partner if a condom is not used.


What if I only have sex with guys who say they’re HIV negative?


This is a nice idea in theory but in practice it doesn’t work


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