What is HIV?
HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus and is a virus that attacks the body’s natural defence against disease known as our ‘immune system’. Today, thanks to HIV medication (known as treatments) living with HIV is vastly different to what it meant to a person’s ongoing health and life expectancy when the epidemic first began.
In Australia, it is estimated that there were 27, 545 people living with HIV in 2017, and globally there are around 36.7 million. Today, a HIV positive person who is on effective treatment can live as long and as healthy a life as a person who does not have HIV.
A person with HIV is described as ‘HIV positive’, meaning that they receive a ‘positive’ result from a blood test for HIV infection. This does not mean they have AIDS. AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) occurs as the result of a person’s immune system being severely damaged by HIV. Unless a person commences treatment, they will be vulnerable to infections and illnesses that their immune system would normally fight off.
People with HIV may not have symptoms, but they still carry the virus, and can transmit it to others. Without treatment, HIV can progress to acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) over a period of 10-15 years. HIV is typically treated with five main types of so-called ‘antiretroviral’ medication that target different stages of the lifecycle of the virus. Adherence to medication is critical, because if treatments are not taken properly, the virus can become resistant to medication. However, medication is not without side-effects, and this has stimulated interested in complementary treatment strategies such as exercise.