HIV, or the Human Immunodeficiency Virus, is a virus that damages the immune system of the infected person. HIV is a chronic virus infection and it requires regular medical monitoring and permanent medical treatment. The HI virus was discovered in the 1980s, after which HIV treatment has taken huge leaps and the prognosis of people living with HIV has improved greatly.
Thanks to the excellent treatment options today, the progress of HIV in the body can be stopped, which means that people with the infection can live long, happy lives. HIV does not stop people with the infection from having sex, having a relationship or having children. Research shows that when a person is on effective medication the virus is untransmittable, meaning that not even during unprotected sex can the virus infect another person. It is important to remember that even while on effective medication, HIV is a chronic virus infection that requires regular medical treatment and follow-up as well as permanent medication. Early diagnosis of HIV is important for the treatment to be successful. Good knowledge levels and skills of sexual and reproductive health and rights are crucial in both the prevention and early detection of HIV.
How HIV is not transmitted
HIV is not transmitted through usual day-to-day activities. A person living with HIV does not pose an infection threat to their environment and they can participate normally in almost every activity in society.
HIV is not transmitted through, for example:
- food, drink or cutlery
- towels or linens
- saunas, public swimming pools or toilet seats
- mosquitoes, other insects or animals
- 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. Sores and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) increase the risk of HIV infection. 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 without a condom, 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 involves a small risk of HIV contagion. In oral sex, the virus can spread when a person gets another person´s 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 called a dental dam can be used.
Blood transmission and sharing needles
HIV can be transmitted from one person to another through blood either through intravenous drug use, blood transfusions 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 is not taking HIV medication. When the mother is on effective medication, there is practically no risk for transmission from mother to child.
The difference between HIV and AIDS
HIV is a virus that attacks certain white blood cells and destroys them. It evolves quickly, which makes it difficult to destroy with medication. HIV weakens the immune system little by little, and without proper medication people living with HIV 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.