How people became infected with HIV
It was usually difficult for people to pin point the time they got infected with HIV since the effects of HIV are not immediate' There can be a 'window period' of up to 3 months from infection until the body produces antibodies to HIV (i.e. seroconversion - where a person changes from being HIV negative to HIV positive). And AIDS may only develop many years later if at all.
Was able to identify the time he seroconverted because he and his partner tested together and his...
Some people experienced a 'seroconversion illness' with lack of energy, tiredness, sweats, joint pains, flu-like symptoms, gum infections, weight loss, glandular fever like symptoms and rashes. One man said he had lost a stone in weight and, not suspecting the cause, had been rather pleased. During a seroconversion illness people may take a few months to become HIV positive. One man's doctor told him, 'Even though your tests are negative, I am convinced you are HIV positive.' Many other people did not recall having a seroconversion illness either because it was too mild or they did not experience any symptoms. Other people did not want to know if the symptoms they had were due to HIV because of fear. One man who had a seroconversion illness said he, 'Could not afford to think about it.'
Describes his seroconversion illness.
People sometimes got an HIV diagnosis at the time of seroconversion particularly if they were very ill and needed to be hospitalised. Some gay men knew about seroconversion illness and strongly suspected what was happening to them when they had symptoms.
Others said they or their health professionals sometimes mistook their seroconversion illness for allergies, a bad flu, glandular fever or even syphilis. After seroconversion people usually become well and it can be many years before they develop any HIV-related illnesses or AIDS if at all.
When and how infection happened
People believed they were infected in a wide range of ways including:
- unprotected anal and vaginal sex in casual encounters
- unprotected sex in relationships: 'I was in a steady relationship, but then I realised my relationship was not that steady,' said one man.
- sexual assault and rape
- injecting drugs
- by being unlucky or 'vulnerable' even when having safe sex: 'We were careful almost to the point of being clinical. So it was just bad luck really,' said one man. 'I was burning the candle at both ends… you do become more vulnerable,' said another man.
- use of contaminated medical equipment & blood transfusions (e.g. in Africa)
Seroconverted after his drink was spiked at a bar and he was sexually assaulted.
Feels he contracted HIV from a partner who was not aware of their HIV infection. (Read by an actor.)
All I could do is replay in my mind how I had contracted HIV. I was seeing my partner for nearly a year and he wasn't aware that he had it.
I had been tested yearly and was fine until February of 2000.
By July of that year I was infected and by late August I had gotten mononucleosis but it still didn't occur to me that anything was wrong until my partner began showing symptoms of shingles and his doctor told him it was very strange for him to be in his early thirties and have shingles. He was told that he should be tested for HIV and when he found out he was positive then I instinctively knew I had contracted it as well.
Some people felt they could pin point the incident where they got HIV. Some of these people said that drugs, alcohol or psychological difficulties (e.g. depression) played a part in their risky sex at the time.
He suddenly remembered a drunken incident of unsafe sex just before his seroconversion illness. ...
I was listening to the radio. And there was a…coverage of a, of a conference on. And I suddenly had this awful remembrance of a drunken night in town. And thinking, bastard… If it wasn't that, it…
And then I remembered that I… that neither of us had had a rubber. You know, and it seemed like a good idea. I don't do sex drunk. Normally. That was 5… 4 years beforehand. And after that I'd come out in an… But I'd never even heard of seroconversion.
I'd come out with an enormous rash I… Everything that, that I've subsequently learnt was to do with seroconvertion.
Many people gave up wondering how they were infected because the question brought up painful memories, could never be answered for sure and did not change the fact they had HIV. One man said, 'I don't know whether I infected him or he infected me… I have no idea and we don't know when,' said one man about his relationship.
Initially wondered how she got HIV but then felt the question could not be usefully answered. ...
And I think oh my God. How can… How did I get this thing? That's what I said to myself. And then I said, 'I'll never know, really, wh- how I got it.' Because I was once married. It could be that I had it even before the blood transfusion. It could be. It could be, it could be from my partner. Who knows? Because…I don't, I don't know, really.
But we just thought probably it's the blood. Because that, that did seem the obvious thing. But I'll never know really the… where it really came from. And I said to myself, by the way, 'Even if I know where it comes from, where… how I got it, it's useless.' There's no point now. It's too late now. I've just to think and get on with my life.
Says the question about how her HIV infection happened is unhelpful and she feels annoyed that...
Well as I say it's my husband, maybe he is not the one. I think it is the clinic, maybe it is not the clinic. Or maybe it's your ex-boyfriend you met before because sometimes it can stay in your system for years without coming out. So it's very difficult to pinpoint and say it's this one. And that is the question we always get when we go to some of the GPs, the GPs, the question they ask you, 'How did you get it? Do you know who gave it to you?' It's so annoying, its so annoying. You know, when someone is asking you that silly question 'How did you get it?' I went through that a long time ago when I was diagnosed and you know the memories still come back and the wound is open again. It is so awful. And they should understand that… And if I knew I was going to get it I think I would have run away from HIV, because I would know that HIV is coming. But I didn't know. I didn't buy it!
Although people do sometimes get HIV from having unsafe sex only once, HIV transmission does not necessarily happen every time you have unprotected sex with an HIV positive partner. The risk is very low indeed if the HIV positive person is on effective treatment (i.e. their viral load is undetectable).
Talks about the risk of getting HIV in unsafe sex.
He assumed he had got HIV from his long-term partner and so had unprotected sex with a HIV...
People who believed they might have been exposed to HIV in the past 72 hours could get access to Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP), although ideally this should be started within 24 hours of exposure. PEP is a month-long course of HIV drugs the same ones taken by people with HIV. The sooner PEP is started, the more likely it is to work. For PEP to work the drugs must be taken for four weeks. If someone stops taking it before 28 days it is unlikely that it will work. It is accessible at all sexual health clinics or, when these are closed, Accident & Emergency departments. One man said, 'If a condom splits on a weekend, I've got to go to Accident & Emergency in order to get hold of this treatment. There should be a clinic somewhere you can go and pick up these pills to prevent someone else getting the virus.'
Last reviewed May 2017.
Last updated May 2017.