Travel Health Service AIDS/HIV
Travel related diseases


What is AIDS/HIV?

AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome), caused by infection with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), is a disease that causes the body to lose its natural protection against infection. Most infected people look healthy and have no signs or symptoms. However, even asymptomatic infected people are able to transmit the virus to others. Some infected people may have symptoms like tiredness, fever, poor appetite, weight loss, diarrhea, night sweat and swollen glands. As the HIV disease progresses with time, the patient will develop more serious illnesses.

How does it spread?

Both men and women can become infected and can give the virus to someone else. HIV is found in the blood, semen and vaginal secretions of infected persons and can be spread in the following ways:

  • Having sex with an HIV-infected person;

  • Sharing drug needles or injection equipment with an HIV-infected person to inject drugs;

  • Passing the virus from an HIV-infected woman to her baby during pregnancy or during birth.

HIV cannot be spread in the following ways:

  • Shaking hands, hugging or simple kissing;

  • Coughs or sneezes, sweat or tears;

  • Mosquitoes;

  • Toilet seats;

  • Eating food prepared or handled by an infected person;

  • Everyday contact with HIV-infected persons at school, work, home or anywhere else.

The most common modes of exposure to HIV are -

  • Sex between men who have sex with men;

  • Injection drug use;

  • Heterosexual contact, primarily with injection drug users.

How can you prevent it?

  • To avoid infection through sex, the only way is to have sex with someone who is not infected and who has sex only with you.

  • Using latex condoms correctly every time can greatly lower your risk of infection.

  • Never share needles or injection equipment to inject drugs or steroids.

  • Avoid tattooing, acupuncture, ear piercing and dental surgery unless it can be guaranteed that sterile equipment will be used.

How is the disease treated?

People who are infected with HIV can do many things to enjoy a long and healthy life. First, they must take care of themselves: eat right, get plenty of exercise and sleep and avoid being exposed to airborne and foodborne pathogens. There are also medications that slow the growth of the virus and delay or prevent certain life-threatening conditions. Currently, there is no vaccine or cure for AIDS.

Further information on AIDS/HIV can be gathered from the Department of Health's Virtual AIDS Office website