HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is the virus that causes AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome). HIV damages the immune system leading to serious infections. Reported HIV cases have begun to increase in recent years.

Page last updated: 20 July 2014

Fast facts

  • The annual number of new HIV diagnoses in Australia increased by 10% in 2012 over the numbers diagnosed in 2011.
  • Men who have sex with men continue to make up the majority of people with diagnosed HIV infection in Australia.
  • A quarter of those diagnosed with HIV in 2012 were through relationships between males and females.

Causes and reducing risk factors

HIV is spread by anal or vaginal sex without a condom, by sharing needles, and from mother to baby (in some cases during childbirth or breastfeeding). In rare cases HIV is spread through oral sex and needle injuries. Always use a condom with water-based lubricant to avoid getting HIV.

Identifying the symptoms

  • Invisible

    Some people have no symptoms for years until the disease progresses to AIDS. If you have had unprotected sex, see your doctor about a test.
  • For males

    • Flu-like symptoms and extreme tiredness.
    • Weight loss and mouth ulcers.
  • For females

    • Flu-like symptoms and extreme tiredness.
    • Weight loss and mouth ulcers.

Dangers if not treated

Left untreated, infection with HIV can lead to the development of AIDS.

Getting checked

Most people who’ve been exposed to HIV will test HIV positive within six weeks of exposure, but a small percentage of people take up to three months. A simple blood test is taken to detect HIV antibodies. A repeat test in three months may be required.

Rapid testing for HIV is now available. There are two different types of HIV rapid tests. One collects oral fluids, the other involves a finger prick. Both are very efficient at detecting HIV antibodies which are present if you have HIV.

There is a list of Public Sexual Health Clinics across Australian provided by the Royal Australasian College of Physicians.

Treatment is easy

The treatment available for people with HIV continues to improve all the time. Advances in HIV antiretroviral therapy has decreased HIV and AIDS-associated mortality and morbidity.

Your responsibilities

If you have HIV it is your responsibility to let all your sexual partners from at least the past six months know so that they can be tested and treated if needed. For advice on how to make it easier to tell them visit the let them know website.

In most cases you’re not obliged to notify teachers or your boss if you’ve been diagnosed with an STI, but there are some rare exceptions for certain professionals who have been diagnosed with a blood-borne virus like HIV or hepatitis B. Ask your doctor for advice if you are unsure.

If you have HIV you are not allowed to donate blood, organs or other tissues.

Prevention tips

Always use a condom with water-based lubricant to avoid the risk of HIV/AIDS.

HIV is not spread through kissing, sharing cups and cutlery, normal social contact, toilet seats or mosquitoes.

Rapid testing for HIV is now widely available.