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HIV is most commonly passed on by having unprotected sex or by sharing infected needles and other injecting equipment used to inject drugs. The virus attacks the immune system, weakening the ability to fight infections and disease. AIDS is the final stage of HIV infection when the body is no longer able to fight life-threatening infections.  There is still no cure for HIV, however, there are treatments that enable most people with the virus to live a long and healthy life.

The immune system is excellent in protecting you from a wide range of problems, such as colds or viruses where you would not even show signs of infection. An individual may be infected for years with HIV and not know about it as they may or may not experience any symptoms of a fever, tiredness, weight loss, rashes, headaches, swollen lymph nodes, sore throat or cancerous lip sores.

In the UK HIV is the fastest growing serious health condition and round ninety-seven thousand four hundred cases of HIV have been reported since the early 1980s, over 18,000 people with HIV have died since the early 1980s, there were seven thousand seven hundred and thirty-four new diagnoses in 2007 and in 2007, it was estimated that 28% of people living in the UK with HIV did not know about their infection, 31% of people diagnosed were diagnosed late and 41% of new HIV diagnoses were among men who have sex with men.

In comparison to the Uk, in 2007 in Western and Central Europe there were an estimated 730,000 people living with HIV, an estimated 27,000 new infections and approximately 8,000 AIDS-related deaths.  In Western Europe, in 2007 33% of the people newly diagnosed with HIV were between 15 and 29 years of age.    HIV it is not spread by casual contact like handshakes, sharing food, doorknobs, sneezing, toilet seats, swimming pools. Where the method of HIV transmission was identifiable, 46% of new HIV cases were infected through heterosexual sex, 32% through sharing equipment for injecting drugs and 20% through gay sex. Of the positive people, 33% of new HIV diagnoses were in women.

The HIV virus is fragile and dies within seconds of being outside the body. The amount of HIV present in the body fluid and the conditions will determine how long the virus lives. HIV is primarily spread by sexual contact with an infected person or by sharing needles and/or syringes, primarily for drug injection.  Babies may become infected before or during birth or through breastfeeding so this presents special risks to the baby and to the delivery staff. Only a fraction of less than 1% of the people who have contracted the virus, was providing medical care to someone. Research continues but there is currently no vaccination and no cure for HIV.