HIV Facts

General Information

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is the virus that causes Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). HIV is most commonly spread by unprotected sexual intercourse; through sharing injecting equipment or from mother-to-child during the birth process and through breastfeeding. Without treatment, HIV damages the immune system, making the body less able to protect itself from illness. Eventually this results in AIDS, where illnesses become so serious they are life threatening. Although there is no vaccine or cure, effective treatment can delay serious illness and improve quality of life.


HIV is found in blood, semen, vaginal fluids and breast milk. You can contract HIV by getting blood or body fluids from an infected person into your bloodstream. This can happen through:

  • Unprotected sexual intercourse (anal or vaginal) with an infected person,
  • Transfusions of unscreened and untested blood,
  • Contaminated needles (most frequently for injecting drug use), and
  • From an infected mother to her child during pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding.

Symptoms of AIDS

Many people with HIV look and feel healthy, but more than half will develop a range of symptoms as the body’s immune system reacts to the virus. These may last for a few days to a few weeks and may include flu-like symptoms, mouth ulcers, swollen glands, recurrent fever, night sweets and chills, diarrhea or persistent or dry cough. Note: These conditions can also be caused by conditions other than HIV. Only an antibody test can confirm that HIV is the cause. After infection, many people can remain well with no symptoms for many years. However, even if someone infected with HIV has no symptoms, they can still spread the disease. Infection with HIV does not mean a person has AIDS. A diagnosis of AIDS is made only when the immune system breaks down, leading to infections and cancers.

HIV Tests

Testing for HIV is the only way to know for sure if you have HIV. Many people do not have any symptoms and can live for many years without knowing they have the virus. Testing for HIV is quick, easy, painless, confidential and free. If you test regularly for HIV, after every time you put yourself at risk, you can help keep yourself and your sexual partners healthy. It is always better to know. Before you test, your healthcare worker will speak with you about your sexual health; why you’ve decided to test, and any risks you may have taken. Remember, the healthcare professional is not there to judge you. There is most likely nothing you can say that they haven’t heard from someone else. Be honest with them, and ask as many questions as you want – that is what they are there for.

How the Tests Work

In Trinidad and Tobago, HIV rapid tests and a laboratory test is used to detect the presence of HIV. HIV rapid tests look for antibodies (antibodies are naturally produced by your body to fight the virus) to HIV in your body. Early testing and diagnosis for HIV can be very helpful because, when people know their HIV status, they can act to take care of themselves and to avoid passing on the virus to others. If the result is positive, they can get the care and support they need for living with HIV/AIDS. It is important that people undertake pre- and post-test voluntary counselling to help them cope with the news, to seek the treatment they need and to plan for the future. blood. Most test for HIV antibodies by taking a prick of blood from your finger. Rapid tests give results in just 15-20 minutes, so results can now be given on the spot at many healthcare centres. If the rapid tests detect the presence of HIV antibodies, a blood sample is taken and sent to the laboratory for further testing to provide confirmation.

HIV/AIDS Treatment

Treatments for HIV/AIDS include medicines to:

  • Reduce the amount of virus in the body (antiretroviral)
  • Prevent the serious illnesses of AIDS (prophylactic and preventative drugs)
  • Treat infections and diseases that occur as part of the AIDS syndrome.

Medicines need to be taken regularly and frequently as missed doses can give the virus a chance to grow. Taking drug treatments for HIV/AIDS can be very complicated and have a substantial impact on lifestyle and relationships. Support from relatives, friends, caregivers, counselors, other persons living with HIV/AIDS and health care professionals is essential.

Self Care

  • Protect yourself against infection
  • Abstain or use a latex condom
  • If you are at risk of getting HIV, consider having an HIV test
  • If you are getting body piercing or tattoos, ensure the provider’s equipment is sterilized according to Ministry of Health guidelines
  • If you are at risk of HIV do not donate blood, organs or sperm

HIV Frequently Asked Questions

Question: Can I contract HIV through normal social contact or activities such as shaking hands, using the same toilet seat, sharing cutlery or exposure to sneezes and coughs?

Answer: No. HIV is not an air-borne, water-borne or food-borne virus; therefore ordinary social contact such as those described above does not result in the virus being passed from one person to another.

Question: How long can HIV survive outside of the human body?

Answer: HIV is a very fragile virus and cannot survive outside of the body for any substantial length of time. Many common substances such as hot liquid, soap, bleach, alcohol and the gastric juices in the stomach can destroy the virus.


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Trinidad and Tobago

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