The HI virus causes a permanent infection that damages the immune system. HIV is found everywhere in the world. The HI virus was discovered in the 1980s. Since then the treatment and prognoses of HIV positive have come a long way. Despite the advances made in treating the disease, the virus cannot be abolished from the body after it is caught, and a chronic virus infections requires regular medical monitoring and permanent medical treatment. An early discovery is important for the success of treatment. For the part of prevention, furthering sexual health awareness and skills among the population plays an important role, as do easy access of condoms and needles as well as responsible sexual behaviour.

HIV, or the Human Immunodeficiency Virus, is a virus that damages the immune system of the infected person. The virus attacks certain white blood cells and destroys them. It can easily transform itself, which makes it difficult to destroy with medication. The immune system of HIV positive persons weakens little by little, and without proper medication they will be exposed to numerous different illnesses.

Without medication, the HIV infection can develop into AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome). HIV and AIDS are not the same thing, and not everyone who has HIV progresses to AIDS. A person with AIDS has a significantly weakened immune system and contracts one of the opportunistic infections related to HIV, for instance, pneumonia, tuberculosis, meningitis, brain fever, retinitis or a fungal infection of the esophagus.

How HIV is not transmitted

HIV is not transmitted through normal day-to-day activities. An HIV positive person does not pose an infection threat to their environment and they can participate normally in almost every activity in the society.

HIV is not transmitted through, for example:
• food, drink or cutlery
• towels or linens
• saunas, public swimming pools or toilet seats
• mosquitoes or other insects
• saliva, tears, sweat, urine, faeces or vomit
• kissing, hugging or touching
• social contact
• safe sex
• healthy skin

How HIV can be transmitted

Vaginal and anal intercourse

The HI virus can be transmitted through unprotected vaginal sex without a condom. Vaginal fluids, semen, pre-ejaculation fluid and blood are all possible transmitters. Vaginal dryness caused by menstruation, pregnancy, breastfeeding or ageing reduces the safety of intercourse. Some medications and drugs can also cause dryness of mucous membranes. Sores and STDs increase the risk of HIV infection. The risk increases for example when the hymen is ruptured during the first intercourse. A water- or silicone-based lubricant prevents sores and dryness of mucous membranes, prevents the condom from breaking during intercourse and increases pleasure of intercourse.

HIV is most easily transmitted through unprotected anal sex, because the mucous membrane of the rectum is fragile and can easily develop sores. The HI virus can be found in semen, pre-ejaculation fluid and the rectum wall. Also the tip of the glans and the end of the urethra can chafe. In addition to using a condom, it is important to use enough lubricant while having anal sex. Lubricant reduces the risk of sores and of the condom breaking and thus reduces the risk of catching an HIV infection.

Oral sex

Oral sex involves a small risk of HIV contagion. The risk is reduced if by avoiding taking semen, pre-ejaculation fluid or vaginal fluids in your mouth. In oral sex, the risk of catching an HIV infection is almost solely with the party who receives pre-ejaculation fluid, semen or vaginal fluids in their mouth. A condom should also be used during oral sex. During cunnilingus, a split condom or a special latex-based oral sex protection can be used.

Blood transmission and sharing needles

HIV can be transmitted from a person to another through blood either through intravenous drug use or, blood transfusion or organ transplants. Using shared needles and syringes involves a high HIV risk, which is why it is important to keep injection instruments strictly personal. Since all blood products are tested in Finland, blood transfusion has not lead to an HIV infection since 1985.

Pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding

HIV can be transmitted from the mother to the foetus or child during pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding. If the mother’s HIV infection is known at the early stage of pregnancy, the risk of the child getting the infection from its mother is very slim in the Western countries, thanks to the preventive medication.

Finnish HIV and AIDS statistics

Global HIV and AIDS statistics

UNAIDS (Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS)

WHO (World Health Organization)

EuroHIV (European Centre for the Epidemiological Monitoring of AIDS)