HIV: What? How? Who?

A comprehensive list of Frequently Asked Questions can be found on the excellent AVERT website. However, some background information is also given here.

What is HIV? What is AIDS?

HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. This virus infects the cells of the human immune system destroying or impairing their function over time. The immune system can then no longer fight off disease or infection like it should.

When a person contracts HIV they do not necessarily have symptoms. It usually takes the human body between 1 and 6 weeks to develop HIV antibodies. During this phase (called ‘serconversion’) some people might have glandular fever-like symptoms (swollen glands, joint pain etc.). A person infected with HIV is highly infectious during this period, whether or not there are any symptoms.

Following seroconversion there are generally 3 clinical stages an HIV infected person goes through. It generally takes 5 to 10 years for a person to develop the first HIV-related illnesses/infections. According to UNAIDS (2006) these are:

Clinical Stage 1: Seroconversion:

Asymptomatic or persistent generalized lymphadenopathy : swelling of one or more lymph nodes.

Clinical Stage 2: Cinically Asymptomactic Stage:

This stage is usually free from major symptoms but milder symptoms may include moderate weight loss, respiratory tract infections, oral ulcerations, Herpes Zoster, Seborrheic Dermatitis, fungal finger nail infections.

Clinical Stage 3: Clinically Symptomatic Stage:

Symptoms include unexplained chronic diarrhoea for longer than one month, unexplained persistent fever (intermittent or constant for longer than one month), severe weight loss, oral candidiasis, oral hairy Leukoplakia, Pulmonary Tuberculosis, severe presumed bacterial infections (e.g. pneumonia, meningitis, bone or joint infection).

Clinical Stage 4: Progression from HIV to AIDS:

What is AIDS?
Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome and is a surveillance definition based on signs, symptoms, infections and cancers associated with the deficiency of the immune system that stems from HIV infection (UNAIDS 2006). The term AIDS applies to the most advanced stages of HIV infection, defined by the occurrence of any of more than 20 opportunistic infections or HIV-related cancers (UNAIDS 2006). Additionally a person with a CD4+ T cell (important cells of your immune system) count of less than 200 per mm3 of blood is considered as having AIDS. The time between infection with HIV and an AIDS diagnosis can be up to 10 to 15 years and sometimes longer.

How is HIV transmitted?

In India, 85% of HIV is through unprotected sex. Much of the stigma – and silence – associated with HIV is because of our inability to be open about sex.

Three modes of unprotected sex that can transmit HIV:
Oral (although the risk is considered to be extremely low)

The number one method to protect against sexual transmission of HIV is correct and consistent condom use(female or male). [How to use a condom (male), How to use a condom (female)].  Condoms also protect against pregnancy and most (but not all) sexually transmitted infections. Condoms can be used during anal, oral and vaginal sex as protection against HIV transmission.


There are other ways in which HIV can be transmitted:
• Sharing infected needles, syringes and other sharp instruments
• Exposure to HIV infected blood through wounds or blood transfusions
• Infected mothers during pregnancy, childbirth or breast feeding

For more information, please visit:

Can HIV be transmitted through kissing, touching or sharing food?
No. HIV CANNOT be transmitted through:
• Coughing, sneezing
• Shaking hands, kissing or touching
• Sharing food or drinks
• Sharing crockery or cutlery
• Contact with toilet seats
• Insect, including mosquitoes or animal bites
• Swimming pools, baths
• Eating food prepared by someone with HIV

There are many excellent websites containing information about HIV/AIDS.

FAQ (from AVERT)

HIV/AIDS In India (National AIDS Control Organisation)

International – UNAIDS

EU-India Media Initiative on HIV/AIDS