HIV is the virus that causes Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS). HIV damages the immune system, and without treatment, can lead to serious infections and cancers over time. The difference between having an HIV infection and being given a diagnosis of AIDS is related to the presence of certain types of infections and cancers. It means not all people with HIV have AIDS.
People with HIV who take effective treatment are unlikely to develop AIDS and have a near-normal life expectancy.
What if I have been exposed to HIV?
There are medications which can sometimes prevent HIV from infecting a person who has been exposed. This is known as Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP). It is best to start PEP as soon as possible, and within 72 hours (three days) of exposure.
You can find out more about PEP by talking to a doctor or calling a HIV PEP hotline in your state or territory:
- Australian Capital Territory – 1800 022 222 (healthdirect helpline)
- New South Wales – 1800 737 669
- Northern Territory – 1800 022 222 (healthdirect helpline)
- Queensland – 13 43 25 84
- South Australia – 1800 022 226
- Tasmania – 1800 675 859
- Victoria – 1800 889 887
- Western Australia – 1300 767 161
Alternatively you call healthdirect on 1800 022 222 or visit the Get PEP website for details on local PEP services across all states and territories.
It is also important to be tested for HIV. Your doctor or sexual health clinic can order a blood test for HIV. They may also use a rapid test in the office that can provide a result within 10-20 minutes. There is no home testing available in Australia yet. An early diagnosis can help you get the best treatment, prevent the progression to AIDS and reduce the chance of spreading the infection to others.
Whatever type of test you have, it can take up to 24 days (and sometimes longer) following exposure for blood to show positive for infection with HIV. This is known as the ‘window period’. So you may need more than one test over time to know for sure if you do or do not have an HIV infection. It is important to use safe sex and safe injecting practices while waiting for the test results, and maintaining these practices after testing, even if you get a negative result, will reduce your risk of future exposure and infection.
Not sure what to do next?
If you are still concerned, why not use healthdirect’s online Symptom Checker to get advice on when to seek medical attention.
The Symptom Checker guides you to the next appropriate healthcare steps, whether it’s self care, talking to a health professional, going to a hospital or calling triple zero (000).
Last reviewed: July 2015