AIDS: A Teacher’s Guide

Ok, so what is AIDS? And what is the difference between HIV and AIDS?

HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that damages the cells in your immune system and weakens your ability to fight everyday infections and disease.

AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) is the name used to describe a number of potentially life-threatening infections and illnesses that happen when your immune system has been severely damaged by the HIV virus.

While AIDS cannot be transmitted from 1 person to another, the HIV virus can.

There’s currently no cure for HIV, but there are very effective drug treatments that enable most people with the virus to live a long and healthy life. With increasing access to effective HIV prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care, including for opportunistic infections, HIV infection has become a manageable chronic health condition, enabling people living with HIV to lead long and healthy lives.

With an early diagnosis and effective treatments, most people with HIV will not develop any AIDS-related illnesses and will live a near-normal lifespan.

Facts and Figures

  • In 2019, it was estimated that there are 105,200 people living with HIV in the UK. 
  • 285 children under 15 received HIV care in 2019.
  • Of all the people living with HIV in the UK, 89% are virally suppressed. which means they can’t pass the virus on.
  • The majority (91,216 – 92.6%) of people accessing HIV care in 2019 acquired HIV through sexual transmission.
  • The proportion of people accessing HIV care in 2019 who acquired HIV transmission through heterosexual sex (45,445 – 46.1%) is very similar to the proportion of people who acquired HIV through sex between men (45,771 – 46.4%).
  • As in many other parts of the world, HIV-related stigma and discrimination prevent many people in the UK from accessing the services they need.
  • The ‘UK Stigma Index 2015, found that a considerable number of people hold stigmatising attitudes towards those living with HIV:
    • Around one in five people reported being excluded from family events because of their HIV status
    • 20% reported sexual rejection after telling someone their status.
    • A third of all participants feared being rejected by a sexual partner (35%) and had avoided sexual encounters (33%) in the last 12 months due to their status.


A survey by the National AIDS Trust in 2014 found that only 45% of people could correctly identify all of the ways HIV is and is not transmitted, and an increasing proportion incorrectly believed it can be transmitted via routes like kissing (16%).

HIV can be transmitted via the exchange of a variety of body fluids from infected people, such as blood, breast milk, semen and vaginal secretions. HIV can also be transmitted from a mother to her child during pregnancy and delivery.

Individuals cannot become infected through ordinary day-to-day contact such as kissing, hugging, shaking hands, or sharing personal objects, food or water. 

It is important to note that people with HIV who are taking ART(anti-retroviral treatment) and are virally suppressed do not transmit HIV to their sexual partners.  Early access to ART and support to remain on treatment is therefore critical not only to improve the health of people with HIV but also to prevent HIV transmission.



Both male condoms and female condoms protect against HIV. A condom is the most effective form of protection against HIV and other STIs. It can be used for vaginal and anal sex, and for oral sex performed on men.

HIV can be passed on before ejaculation through pre-cum and vaginal secretions, and from the anus.  So it’s very important condoms are put on before any sexual contact occurs between the penis, vagina, mouth or anus.


Lubricant can make sex safer by reducing the risk of vaginal or anal tears caused by dryness or friction, and can also prevent a condom tearing.

Only water-based lubricant rather than an oil-based lubricant should be used with condoms.  Oil-based lubricants weaken the latex in condoms and can cause them to break or tear.

Sharing needles and injecting equipment

Injecting drugs could expose the user to HIV and other viruses found in blood, such as hepatitis C.

Transmission can occur from sharing needles, syringes, injecting equipment such as spoons and swabs, or the actual drugs or liquids used to dilute them.  Many local authorities and pharmacies offer needle exchange programmes, where used needles can be exchanged for clean ones.

Needle sharing can also apply to getting a tattoo or piercing, it’s important that a clean, sterilised needle is always used.

HIV prevention medicine

HIV negative people may be able to take pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) medicine to reduce their risk of getting the virus.  PrEP is available for some people who are at high risk of HIV infection – for example, those whose partner is HIV positive.

It’s available as a tablet, and is to be taken before sex or potential exposure to HIV.  It is available from sexual health clinics across England.

If a person is worried that they have been exposed to HIV, they can take a Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) treatment to stop the virus from becoming an infection. For PEP to work most effectively, treatment should start no later than 72 hours after possible exposure to HIV (and ideally within 24 hours of exposure).

Screening for HIV in pregnancy

If pregnant, you’ll be offered a blood test to check if you have HIV as part of routine antenatal screening.  If untreated, HIV can be passed to babies during pregnancy, birth or breastfeeding.


Late diagnosis rates are still too high and have an impact on individual health outcomes as well as on public health. To improve access to testing services, in order to prevent new infections, there needs to be renewed efforts to increase HIV awareness and knowledge across the country through both public campaigns and education in schools.



World Health Organisation

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