HIV The Basics WA AIDS

HIV: The Basics 

HIV is a virus that lives and reproduces in the human body. Over time, HIV destroys part of the immune system and renders it ineffective. When the immune system is sufficiently depleted it can no longer overcome infections, illnesses and some cancers. When a person contracts two HIV illnesses simultaneously they are usually given an AIDS diagnosis.

HIV stands for:

H Human Requires human cells to reproduce. Can only be transmitted between humans.
I Immunodeficiency Deficiency of the immune system.
V Virus Smallest known living organism.

AIDS stands for:

A Acquired Caused by an agent, not hereditary.
I Immune Pertains to the immune system.
D Deficiency Incomplete or lacking.
S Syndrome A collection of illnesses, sometimes occurring simultaneously.

How can HIV be transmitted from one person to another?

HIV can be transmitted from one person to another by the exchange of certain body fluids. Body fluids that can contain enough HIV to be infectious are: blood (including menstrual blood), vaginal fluids, breast milk and semen (and pre-ejaculatory fluid).

Some activities which can put people at risk for HIV infection include:

  • sharing injecting, piercing and tattooing equipment;
  • unprotected penetrative sex (anal or vaginal);
  • unprotected oral sex; and,
  • HIV positive mother to child transmission, before and during birth or through breast feeding.

What is safer sex?

Safer sex means preventing the exchange of semen (or pre-ejaculatory fluid), vaginal fluids or blood in any sexual contact. If you have unprotected sex you may also become infected with other Sexually Transmissible Infections (STIs) like Gonorrhoea, Herpes, Chlamydia and Hepatitis B, or transmit these to someone else. If you or your partner has an STI, this may increase the risk of becoming infected with HIV.

Unprotected vaginal or anal sex can be a high risk activity. Apart from abstinence, condoms used correctly with a water based lubricant are considered the safest means of protection for penetrative sex.

Oral sex is a lower risk activity compared to penetrative sex. Risk largely depends upon whether there are any cuts, scratches or sores in or around the mouth that could provide a point of entry for HIV into the bloodstream. Awareness of oral hygiene is important in assessing the risk around oral sex. Condoms and dams are effective in minimising the risk of transmission.

 Injecting drug use

Sharing injecting, piercing or tattooing equipment is considered a high risk for HIV transmission, and other blood-borne viruses such as Hepatitis C (HCV) and Hepatitis B (HBV). Using new injecting equipment every time is the best way to avoid becoming infected with these viruses.

If you inject:

NEVER share equipment - use your own, and obtain new, sterile equipment regularly;
NEVER share with anybody (no matter how healthy they seem, or how well you know them); and,

ALWAYS dispose of used needles and syringes by putting them in a rigid container with a sealed lid.

Remember, anyone may have HIV regardless of race, religion, sex or sexual orientation. It is what you do or don't do that can expose you to HIV.

Want more information?

If you have any questions or concerns about HIV/AIDS - about safe sex, HIV transmission, HIV testing, support services, or sexuality issues, please phone:


Confidential phone service 9am - 5pm Monday to Friday (08) 9482 0044

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Our Mission

To minimise the impact and further transmission of HIV, other blood borne viruses and sexually transmissible infections. To reduce social, legal and policy barriers which prevent access to health information and effective support and prevention services.

WA AIDS Council would like to acknowledge the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as the Traditional Custodians of this country throughout Australia, and their strength, resilience and connection to land and community. In particular, the WA AIDS Council would like to acknowledge the Wadjuk people of the Noongar Nation as the traditional custodians of the land in which our office is located.


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