What is HIV?

Human Immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a virus that causes damage to the immune system. Over time the virus weakens the body’s ability to fight infection and disease.

Although there is no cure for HIV, with an early diagnosis the virus can be managed very effectively by antiretroviral drug treatments. Treatment enables most people with the virus to live a long and healthy life.

Early diagnosis and treatment can prevent HIV developing into AIDS related illnesses. AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) develops when the immune system has been severely damaged by the HIV virus leading to potentially life – threatening infections and illness. 


HIV is not easily passed on. The bodily fluids of a person with HIV needs to get into the bloodstream of another person for the virus to be transmitted. Bodily fluids that contain enough HIV to infect another person include: blood, semen, vaginal fluids, lining of the anus and breastmilk. Saliva and sweat do not contain enough virus to pass to another person.

The main ways HIV enters the bloodstream are:

  • by sharing injections / used needles

  • through unprotected sex via the lining of the anus and vagina

  • through the thin lining of the mouth and eyes

  • through cuts and sores

  • from mother to baby during birth or breastfeeding

It is not passed through spit, kissing, bites, sneezes, unbroken skin, sharing towels, sharing cutlery or using the same toilet.

The most common way of people in the UK getting HIV is through unprotected sex

Who is most at risk?

The people most at risk of becoming infected with HIV are:

  • Men who have unprotected sex with men

  • People engaging in chemsex (using drugs to enhance sex)

  • Women who have unprotected sex with men who have sex with men

  • People who have unprotected sex with a person who has lived or travelled in Africa

  • People who inject drugs, and people who have sex with those who inject drugs

  • People who have received a blood transfusion while in Africa, Eastern Europe, the countries of the former Soviet Union, Asia, Central and Southern America.

It is recommended that those at risk of HIV have regular HIV tests every three months.

Emergency HIV medication

If you have been exposed to a risk of contracting HIV in the last 72 hours you can take medication to reduce the chances of contracting the virus.

PEP (post -exposure prophylaxis) is a high dose of HIV treatment which may stop you becoming infected. The medication needs to be taken daily for one month.

We cannot prescribe PEP at the What? Centre. If you need PEP, please visit: http://www.dgft.nhs.uk/services-and-wards/genito-urinary-medicine/

HIV Screening

The only way to find out if you have HIV is to have an HIV test, as symptoms of HIV may not appear for many years. Anyone who thinks they could have HIV should get tested.

We provide HIV testing free of charge to anyone living in the Dudley Borough.

We use point of care tests using a small spot of blood from your finger. Results are available within a few minutes.

It is recommended that high risk groups are tested at least once a year, or every 3 months if they are having unprotected sex with new or casual partners. These groups include:

-         Men who have sex with men

-         Black African men and women

Other people at an increased risk of infection include those who share needles, syringes or other injecting equipment.

Treatment for HIV

Although there is currently no cure for HIV, there is very effective medication which can help you to live a healthy life.

Your Doctor will prescribe antiretroviral drugs which helps to stop the virus replicating in the body, buying the immune system time to repair itself. Medication is usually between 1 to 4 pills which need to be taken daily .

For further information on HIV, diagnosis and treatment, please refer to the NHS website: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/hiv-and-aids/