The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a lentivirus, a member of the retrovirus family, and is the causation of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS).

HIV has two distinctions: HIV-1 has a high infection rate, and has spread globally. HIV-2 has a low infection rate, and is defined to West Africa.

AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) in humans is a condition of progressive failure of the immune system, allowing infections and cancers to thrive.


Infection with HIV occurs with the transfer of blood, pre-ejaculate, semen, vaginal fluid, and breast milk. Both, the free virus, and virus within infected immune cells, is present in these bodily fluids.

Predominant routes of transmission

  • Unsafe/unprotected sex
  • Body fluids
  • Direct contact with infected blood
  • Contaminated needles/tourniquets
  • Breast milk
  • Perinatal transmission (HIV transfer from mother to newborn at birth.)


The World Health Organisation (WHO) has considered HIV a pandemic threat in the recent past. Disregarding the consequences, complacency about HIV may play a key role in HIV risk. AIDS has killed more than 25 million people from its discovery in 1981 to the year 2006, and has infected about 0.6% of the world’s population. In 2004, 2.1 million people lost their lives to AIDS. The year 2009 saw an improvement with only 1.8 million people dying from AIDS. Poverty, and economic retardation in Sub-Saharan Africa are responsible for the highest count of 22.5 million infections (68% of the global total).


Initially after introduction, HIV gained a strong hold in At-Risk group populations in Australia, such as the gay community and others. Australia recognised and responded swiftly to the HIV pandemic and has successfully created effective disease prevention models and public health education programs. As a result, Australia has achieved, and maintained, a low HIV infection rate.


HIV infects vital cells in the human immune system, namely the helper T cells. When numbers decline below critical levels, cell mediated immunity is lost, and the body’s ability to fight back infections and disease becomes impaired or impossible. Many untreated HIV infected individuals eventually develop AIDS, and may die from complications caused by infections and diseases, associated with a progressive failure of the immune system.

Infection with HIV-1 is associated with a progressive decrease of the CD4+ T cell, and an increase of HIV in the blood. The ratio of CD4+ T cells to HIV in the blood allows to determine the stage of infection.

HIV stages include;

  • Acute or primary infection
  • Latency
  • AIDS


Symptoms in the acute stage are non- specific, and may be easily dismissed or misdiagnosed. Failure to recognise the syndrome bears a risk of spreading the infection, due to the highly contagious nature of the disease during this stage. Untreated acute infections can last several weeks, and may include non-specific symptoms.

Symptoms stage 1

  • Malaise
  • Fever
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Sore throat
  • Rash
  • Muscle pain
  • Mouth and esophageal sores
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Headache


The latency stage shows few or no symptoms and can last from 2 weeks to 20 years and longer, depending on the individual and their circumstances. During this stage of infection, HIV is active in the lymph nodes that may appear persistently swollen. Patients in this second stage of HIV are still infectious. Early treatment with modern antiretroviral drugs is now available and is recommended to commence right (24-72 hours) after sexual exposure. This new treatment achieves significant improvement by lowering the viral load to undetectable and untransmittable levels, and can, with ongoing treatment, prevent a development from HIV into AIDS.


When CD4+ T cell counts fall under 200 per microliter, cell mediated immunity is lost. Infections, and a variety of microbes, appear.

Progressive development of symptoms

  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Recurring respiratory tract infections
  • Sinusitis
  • Bronchitis
  • Otitis media
  • Pharyngitis
  • Prostatitis
  • Skin rashes
  • Oral ulceration
  • Tumours
  • Oral candidiasis
  • Tuberculosis
  • Herpes simplex infections, if previously acquired, worsens
  • Shingles
  • Epstein-Barr virus-induced B-cell lymphomas
  • Kaposi’s sarcoma

Late stages of AIDS may present symptoms 

  • Pneumonia
  • Infection with cytomegalovirus (another herpes virus) or Mycobacterium avium complex becomes more prominent.


The HIV epidemic has come to an end. Modern medical HIV treatment and prevention is available in Australia. Good clinical management of the HIV retrovirus virus, pre and post exposure, can protect from first infections, or reduce the virus to undetectable and non transmissible status.


U=U is the new way to end HIV. This new way of effective medical treatment can lower the viral load to an undetectable level. This means, there is zero risk of you passing on HIV to your partner((s). See your doctor for advice.


  • The foremost HIV protection method is the use of barrier condoms and dams.
  • Regular sexual health checks allow for early detection and treatment.
  • Once exposed to HIV, see your doctor immediately. A prescription drug PEP can prevent viral development if administered 24 – 72 hours after exposure. See your doctor for medical advice and treatment.
  • Treatment as prevention (TasP) is an antiretroviral prescription medication to prevent HIV transmission and to reduce the virus load to an undetectable level, U=U. Your risk to transmit HIV to your sexual partner is considered zero. See your doctor or sexual health clinic for medical advice and treatment.
  • Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) TUVADA, containing 2 medicines TDF/ETC, is a prescription drug for HIV negative persons to prevent first HIV infections. See your doctor or sexual health clinic for medical advice and treatment.
  • Your sexual partner(s) have a right to know your HIV status. They have a right to protect their health and give or withdraw their sexual consent.
  • Upon positive HIV diagnosis, your doctor might suggest contact tracing while adhering to professional confidentiality and discretion.
  • Blood transfusions, if required, are mostly safe in Australia due to excellent blood screening techniques.


Sex Addiction Australia offers information, support and sexual health counselling to clients living with HIV/AIDS infections and their partners. To book a confidential consultation with our Sex Therapist in Sydney or online please call  (+61) 02 9380 4486 or email