HIV is a virus that attacks and takes over immune cells.
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HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is a virus that weakens the immune system. It attacks and takes over immune cells, using them to reproduce itself. Infected cells can be found in many parts of the body and in body fluids such as blood, semen, vaginal fluid, and breast milk.

HIV is transmitted primarily via unprotected sexual intercourse (including anal and even oral sex), contaminated blood transfusions, hypodermic needles, and from mother to child during pregnancy, delivery, or breastfeeding. Prevention of HIV infection through early screening and detection is key to stopping the spread of the disease.

If Left Undiagnosed?

As a HIV infection spreads it interferes more and more with the immune system, making the person much more likely to get infections, including opportunistic infections and tumours that do not usually affect people who have working immune systems.

AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) is a serious weakening of the body’s immune system caused by HIV. When a HIV positive person’s immune cells (CD4 cells) drop below a certain level, they can be vulnerable to infections that their body would normally fight off. Infection with HIV which leads to the development of AIDS can result in death.

It's important to make regular STI screening a health priority in order to find infections before complications develop, and to prevent the transmission of infections to others.

How is it Spread?

HIV is transmitted by three main routes: sexual contact, exposure to infected body fluids or tissues, and from mother to child during pregnancy, delivery, or breastfeeding (known as vertical transmission). The most frequent mode of transmission of HIV is through sexual contact with an infected person.

Someone who has HIV may not have any symptoms, but they carry the virus and can just as easily pass it on through blood or body fluids.

What are the Symptoms?

Symptoms of HIV are common to a number of other illnesses. If you think you’ve been put at risk, or if you have any symptoms, or a combination of them for a month or longer, you should be tested.


Most people have mild or no symptoms of HIV, which is why the infection can often remain undetected. For those who do develop symptoms, HIV infection can feel like flu, can cause extreme fatigue and weight loss, or can cause unusual marks in the mouth/skin. As many of these symptoms are also indicators of other common health issues they can often be overlooked, which is why dedicated HIV screening is important.


If someone’s immune system is badly damaged they may be at risk of developing an AIDS-defining condition. Symptoms at this stage can include diarrhoea, appetite and weight loss, fever, and extreme tiredness. AIDs-defining conditions are illnesses that may not be a threat to people with strong immune systems however they may be fatal to someone whose immune system is damaged.

How is it Tested?

SmartHealth tests for HIV with a blood test from a sample provided at the Pathology Collection Centre. The test for HIV detects for the presence of HIV antibodies which are produced in response to exposure to the virus, and found in the blood of someone who is infected.

It can take up to 12 weeks for HIV antibodies to develop after a person has been infected (known as the “window period” - read more about testing windows.

If you are waiting for the results of a HIV test it's important to abstain from sexuntil you know both you and your partner are safe.


Whilst there is currently no cure for HIV, detection and early treatment of the virus, and immune system monitoring, can greatly improve long-term health. For the majority of people the use of antiretroviral drugs can postpone (and sometimes prevent) HIV-related illnesses from developing, enabling those diagnosed to live long and productive lives.

If your test is positive for HIV, it is wise to you tell your healthcare providers and legally mandated that you tell all current and future sex partners and/or anyone with whom you share needles. Counselling services are available that will help you to inform the people who need to know - please click here for more details.

Statutory Notification

HIV is a notifiable disease which means that doctors and laboratories are legally required to notify state and federal health departments about new cases. This information is treated confidentially and the statistics used for public health planning.

Those people who test positive to HIV are required by law to inform past and potential sexual partners of their diagnosis before having sex, even when using a condom.


Recent HIV and Hepatitis B Exposure

If you believe you have been exposed to HIV or Hepatitis B in the last 72 hours you should stop engaging in sexual activity and immediately see a doctor, hospital or specialised clinic in order to receive preventive post-exposure treatment (PEP). Click here to learn more about PEP.