HIV and AIDS
The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a virus that attacks the body's immune system, causing the immune system to stop working. This leaves a person who is infected with HIV with a high risk of developing other serious infections or diseases.
HIV is spread through the exchange of bodily fluids. This most commonly happens during sexual intercourse. It can also be transmitted through sharing needles when injecting drugs, or from a pregnant woman to her unborn baby.
Although there is no cure for HIV, and no vaccine to stop infection, since the 1990s treatments have been developed that enable most people with HIV to stay well and live relatively normal and active lives.
Anyone can contract HIV but the illness is more prevalent amongst gay men, people from sub-saharan Africa, and amongst younger people of all backgrounds.
Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is a term that is used to describe the latter stages of HIV, when the immune system has stopped working and the person develops a life-threatening condition, such as pneumonia. The term is no longer widely used because it is too general to describe the many different conditions that can affect somebody with HIV. Specialists now prefer to use the terms advanced or late-stage HIV infection.
Certain activities, such as having unprotected sexual intercourse or sharing needles when injecting drugs, will increase the risk of contracting HIV.
You can go to the following pages for advice on reducing these risks:
Many people worry about getting HIV / AIDS, or about what life will hold for them if they have been diagnosed. Although infection with HIV is serious, people with HIV and AIDS are now living longer, healthier lives thanks to new and effective treatments.
Whether you are worried that you may have contracted HIV / AIDS, or have a confirmed diagnosis, there are plenty of sources of information, advice and support.
If you are concerned that you might have contracted HIV, it's important to contact your GP straight away to get tested.
You can also go to an NHS Drop-In Centre or GUM (sexual health) clinic for testing.
Chelsea and Westminster HIV and sexual health services offer testing for sexually transmitted infections (including HIV tests), contraceptives including the morning after pill (emergency contraception), condoms, pregnancy testing, Hepatitis A and B vaccinations, safer sex education and support and counselling.
The service covers the West London area and has three sites, the Kobler Centre on Fulham Road, a centre in Charing Cross Hospital, and one in Dean Street, Soho.
Riverhouse is a community based centre for people who live with HIV. They provide a large and diverse range of services such as nursing advice, counselling, benefits advice, complementary therapies, educational courses plus a meal each week day. Although based in Hammersmith the centre is open to people who are resident in, or who access medical services in, Hammersmith & Fulham and Kensington & Chelsea.
The NAZ project London (NPL) provides sexual health and HIV prevention and support services to targeted Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) communities in London. It exists 'to challenge myths and prejudices that exist about and within BME communities and to ensure that these communities have access to care, support, and culturally and linguistically appropriate information'.
Spectra CIC provides advice and support to the LGBT+, BAME and other minority communities on sexual health issues. They offer services such as counselling, outreach, social and support groups and free HIV screenings.
The Food Chain exists to ensure people living with HIV in London can access the nutrition they need to get well, stay well and lead healthy, independent lives.
They deliver meals and groceries, offer cookery and nutrition classes and communal eating opportunities to people living with HIV in London and their dependents.
If your health is affecting your ability to look after yourself and complete basic day-to-day tasks then you may be eligible for support from your local council following an assessment of your care needs.
The NHS website provides further information on all aspects of living with HIV and AIDS.
The Terrence Higgins Trust (THT) was one of the first charities to be set up in response to the HIV epidemic. Whatever your sexuality, HIV status, gender, cultural background or ethnic origin, THT has services set up with your needs in mind. If you're affected by HIV, then they will try to help.
Body and Soul is a UK charity supporting children, teenagers and families living with, or closely affected by, HIV. They provide structured support sessions within a safe environment where members can meet others affected by HIV and exchange vital support and information, enabling people to face the challenges of HIV.
The National Long Term Survivors Group (NLTSG) was set up to provide support for people who had been living with HIV and AIDS for five or more years. The main activity of NLTSG is the organising of the 'Living Proof' weekend retreats. The weekends provide a safe, relaxed place to meet other people who have also been living with HIV and AIDS for five or more years.
Positively UK offers support and advice, including a helpline, to people with a diagnosis of HIV.