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HIV FAQs

There is no such thing as a stupid question. Every question is valid and reasonable. Here are some examples of the kinds of questions we are asked on a regular basis about HIV.

General Questions
Transmission Questions
Motherhood Questions
Living With HIV Questions

General Questions

What is the difference between HIV and AIDS?
HIV is a virus. You can live with HIV.

AIDS is a collection of illness that sometimes occur once someone has been living with HIV for years. It is possible to die from an AIDS related illness.

Is HIV present in urine and faeces?
HIV is present in urine and faeces but in extremely small quantities which is impossible to transmit. If blood is present in urine or faeces then the possibility of HIV transmission is higher.

Can you catch it through sweat/saliva?
No, whilst other viruses like hepatitis might be transmitted through all body fluids, HIV is only transmitted through a few, sweat/saliva is not one of them.

How long can it last in spilt blood?
There are various times given in answer to this question. The basic rule is that once the blood is dry it is safer. HIV is extremely fragile once outside the body. If you are cleaning up blood, whether it is wet or dry, use universal precautions.

Where did it come from?
No one knows, people search for the answer and there are many theories. At the end of the day, do we really need to know where it comes from. In order to prevent HIV transmission we need to know where it can go and how it can get there.

Do all people die?
No, people in Ireland rarely die from AIDS or HIV related illness. If people are diagnosed in time for the medication to take effect there is no reason why anyone should die from HIV.

Why can’t you cure it?
No one has yet figured out how to remove the virus from a blood stream once it is inside a body. Much research is being done on a vaccine to prevent future infections but may never come to pass that people who are living with HIV will one day be cured. At the moment the best we can hope for is that people living with HIV can get easy access to the medication they require in order to keep their viral load under control.

Do antibiotics get rid of it?
No. Antibiotics can cure symptoms you may have from infections and other illnesses but they cannot cure viral infections. HIV is a virus.

How many people in Ireland have it?
Due to the figures available being based only on people who test which is a minority of the total population of Ireland, it is unclear how many people are living with HIV.

Is it only “blacks”, “gays” and “junkies” that get AIDS?
The Red Ribbon Project does not use these terms to describe anyone but in answer to the question no. Anyone can contract HIV. HIV does not discriminate against anyone. If you have blood, your are alive and it can get into your blood stream, then HIV will transmit if it can. There are many myths about mis-information around who is living in Ireland with HIV. It is true that men who have sex with men are a high risk group but it is also true that statistically Irish born men and women between the ages of 20-35 are a high risk group. Statistically intravenous drug users are experiencing a steady decline in new diagnosis each year (2010).

Surely I would know if I had HIV?
No, not necessarily. Most people who receive a HIV diagnosis do not remember the “two week period of flu like symptoms” that occur when HIV transmission has happened. Many people experience no symptoms at all and most are quite shocked to receive a positive diagnosis.

If my partner had HIV, I would have noticed wouldn’t I?
No, not necessarily. As no-one can tell by looking at someone if they are living with HIV or not, you probably wouldn’t know unless you have both been tested.

My friend told me s/he has AIDS, what do I do?
It’s up to you what you do. Does your friend mean AIDS or have they just received a HIV positive result. If your friend is telling you s/he has AIDS then s/he might need some support. Don’t be afraid of them, HIV can only be transmitted in certain ways and being a friend carries no risk from HIV transmission. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you feel you want to.

Transmission Questions

Is it only people who sleep around that catch HIV?
No. Although it is unlikely that HIV will be transmitted through one incident of sexual risk, it is possible and has happened. HIV can also be transmitted through blood to blood contact from tattoos, piercing and IV drug use.

I always use contraception, I can’t have HIV can I?
Contraception (pill, patch, coil, etc) will not protect you from HIV unless you are using a condom or female condom. Contraception only prevents pregnancy. Even if you have always used condoms or female condoms for penetrative sex, if you have ever engaged in any other type of sexual activity without barriers it may be possible that HIV was transmitted. Condoms often fail and we do not notice. Injecting drugs once and sharing a needle can also cause HIV transmission. If you are worried, best to get tested.

But I use condoms so there is no way I need a test is there?
Did you always use condoms? Often we have experience of sex once or twice without one. Even if you have always used condoms HIV can still be contracted through blood on the hand or in the mouth, the risk is low but it still exists. One of the most common failures in condom use is air not being squeezed out of the tip. This means the semen comes back down the penis and out the base and potentially into the person being penetrated. HIV can be carried in semen, and there are other fluids like anal fluid that can also carry HIV. If your worried, best to get tested.

Is HIV transmitted in menstrual blood?
Yes. If a woman is living with HIV then HIV will be present in all her blood including her menstrual blood.

One of us is positive and the other is not, can we still have sex?
Yes. Whether you have sex and how you have sex can be negotiated. Some people tend to feel less sexy than usual after a HIV diagnosis and partners can be afraid of contracting HIV and so avoid sex. Using a barrier (condoms, female condoms, glyde dams or gloves) can make your sex safer. There are also certain strategies you can introduce to your sex life in order to decrease the possibility of transmission. If your viral loads are undetectable then it is possible you can renegotiate your sexual activity with each other. The main thing about this is that you do what feels right for both of you.

Even if you are both living with HIV there may still be a need to use a barrier, contact us for further information on this.

How can some babies be born with HIV and then become HIV negative?
When a child is born to a mother living with HIV, it has its mother’s antibodies in its blood which may create a positive test result. After awhile the child may shed these antibodies and test negative in the future. Further information can be found on our treatment page and our transmission page.

Motherhood Questions

I am pregnant, will I be able to have my baby?
Yes you will, unless there is something else preventing you from having your baby. Living with HIV does not mean you are disabled, or incapable in some way, it just means you have a virus in your blood stream that needs to be controlled. Some things about how you having your baby may need to be discussed with the doctor, but you should still be able to have your baby.

Will I be able to have more children?
Yes. If you want them, HIV will not prevent you from becoming pregnant or giving birth. Talk to your HIV consultant about when is the best time for you and whether there is anything you need to take into consideration.

Living With HIV Questions

I was just told by the doctor that I have HIV, am I going to die?
We don’t know, it is unlikely you will ever know. Knowing you are living with HIV is a good thing because it means you can keep yourself healthy. Few people in Ireland die from AIDS related illness and most of the time it is because they found out they were living with HIV too late for the treatment to work.

I am newly diagnosed, how will I tell my husband/wife/partner?
This is always a hard question. You know your partner better than anyone else and you know how you think they may react and what your news will mean to them. We would always say, take your time to think about how you would like to tell them. No-one needs to know today and if you have a good understanding of where you are with your new diagnosis then it will be easier to answer someone else’s questions. At the end of the day it is up to you but we do offer support for you to talk through your options and choices if you feel you need to.

How did I get it?
The only thing you will probably be able to determine is the route of transmission, whether from sharing needles, medical treatment or unprotected sexual intercourse etc. It is natural to assume that the first person we know whom is living with HIV, is the person we contracted HIV from, but it might not be the case and most of us cannot trace our route of transmission.

Can it kill you?
HIV cannot kill you directly but it damages your immune system which means that without medication you may develop illnesses and other infections that progressively worse. Eventually you may find that you do not recover and therefore die of something called a HIV related infection or an AIDS related illness.

Will I waste away?
It is not necessary. If you eat well, exercise, keep your mind healthy and take the medication when you need to then you should be able to remain healthy.

Why has god given this to me?
This is a hard question for anyone to answer. Depending on your faith and your personal belief system you may believe that god has given you HIV. Not everybody experiences HIV as having a negative impact on their lives, some people say that they experience life differently after a HIV diagnosis, people talk about finding strength, understanding themselves better or appreciating life more. Where you are diagnosed is crucial to how easily you will be able to get hold of medical care, information, treatment and support. In Ireland, all of those things are available free to anyone who is diagnosed. You could ask why did God tell me this now?

The Red Ribbon Project is happy to offer you information, support and care around your HIV status whatever your faith and belief system, it is also important that you remain in contact with your health care team.

We do offer counselling if you would like the opportunity to explore this in a confidential environment.

Will I have to pay for treatment?
No. All treatment for HIV in Ireland is free for anyone who receives a HIV positive diagnosis.

I am an asylum seeker, should I tell the Department of justice?
It is not necessary, only tell them if you want to. You do not have to tell anyone at all. Some people prefer to as they believe that having a HIV positive health status will help their asylum process, others believe it will harm it. Currently in Ireland there is no preference in the asylum system one way or the other.

If you still have a question which has not been answered on this page please contact us on our confidential helpline 061 316661 during office hours.