Newly Diagnosed
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A Brief History

HIV, or Human Immunodeficiency Virus, first made news in 1981 when a number of gay men started presenting in hospitals with severe illnesses and rare cancers uncommon for their age and demographic background and dying of conditions like pneumonia from which they should normally have been able to recover. In 1982 the terms Gay Related Immune Deficiency (GRID) and Acquired ImmunoDeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) were coined. By this stage Injecting Drug Users (IDU) were also presenting with similar symptoms and it was thought that the condition must be lifestyle related. By 1983 women, children and heterosexual men without any links to the Gay and IDU communities started to be diagnosed. In 1984 HTLV-III or LAV, now known as HIV, was isolated within blood and scientists started to get a clearer picture of the cause of AIDS. For a history of HIV and AIDS in Australia, click here.

"By 1983 women, children and heterosexual men without any links to the Gay and IDU communities started to be diagnosed."






Human Immunodeficiency Virus

We now know of the existence of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus. The blood test used to detect the presence of the virus (still the only publicly available test in Australia) looks for the antibodies that the body produces when it fights HIV, so when a person’s blood tests ‘positive’ for these antibodies that person is diagnosed as HIV Positive (or HIV+).

HIV Virus (Artistic Impression) " Image courtesy of renjith krishnan/".

HIV acts by inserting itself into White Blood Cells (T-Cells) and uses them as ‘factories’ for producing more copies of itself. This compromises the body’s immune system in two ways. Firstly the Immune system is constantly fighting infection (HIV) so when another infection enters the body there are little reserves left to fight it. Secondly, as HIV is using the White Blood Cells as ‘HIV factories’ these cells become less effective at what they’re meant to be doing. If these two things happen the body becomes prone to serious ‘Opportunistic Infections’.

Acquired ImmunoDeficiency Syndrome

Acquired ImmunoDeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is a collection of symptoms arising from the presence of HIV in the body. To be diagnosed with AIDS means that HIV has severely compromised immune system function and that an AIDS related illness (eg Kaposi's Sarcoma, Pneumonia, Toxoplasmosis) is also present. You cannot catch AIDS, you can only catch HIV.

There are strategies and behaviours that can be adopted to reduce the risk of developing AIDS and live a healthier life. It is possible to live for many years with HIV and not be affected by it. It is also possible to recover from AIDS (though at this stage it is not possible to eradicate HIV from the body completely).


HIV must be present in bodily fluids in large quantities to be infectious. HIV is only in such large quantities in the blood, semen, pre-ejaculatory fluid, vaginal secretions and breast milk of an HIV positive person. A person can only become infected with HIV if one of these bodily fluids containing HIV passes into their blood stream.

HIV can be spread through:

  • Unprotected vaginal or anal sex with someone who has HIV
  • Sharing injecting equipment or needles with someone who has HIV
  • A mother who has HIV to her baby during pregnancy, birth or breast feeding
  • Tattooing or piercing with equipment which has been used on HIV+ people and not been changed or cleaned
  • Unprotected oral sex with someone who has HIV
  • Blood transfusions (or use of blood products) in countries where blood is not screened for HIV. In Australia, blood has been screened since 1985, but this is not necessarily the case overseas.

You will not get HIV from:

  • Hugging, kissing or touching someone who has HIV
  • Sharing cups, cutlery and utensils with someone who has HIV
  • From people who are HIV+ sneezing, coughing, crying, sweating, vomiting - or from their urine or faeces
  • From donating blood
  • Sharing phones or computers with people who are HIV+
  • From toilet seats, public swimming pools or bed linen
  • From mosquitoes or other insects

For information on how to minimise HIV transmission, click here.

"Image courtesy of renjith krishnan/".

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