HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. HIV infects and gradually destroys an infected person's immune system, reducing their protection against infection and cancers.

Initially, someone living with HIV may show no symptoms of HIV infection as their immune system manages to control it. However, in most cases their immune system will need help from anti-HIV drugs to keep the HIV infection under control. These drugs do not completely rid the body of HIV infection. There is no cure for HIV. However there are drugs that can stop HIV reproducing and can drive down the amount of the virus in your body to very low levels.

HIV is not passed on easily from one person to another, especially compared to other viruses. That is because HIV is present in body fluids. So for HIV to be passed on, the body fluids of someone who is already infected has to get into an uninfected person's body and then into their bloodstream.

So the main ways that HIV can be transmitted are:

  • Through sexual intercourse and other sexual activities
  • From mother to baby
  • From blood to blood

How to care for someone with HIV?

One of the best places for those with HIV to be cared for is at home, surrounded by the people who love them. Many people living with the virus can lead an active life for a very long time and most of the time they do not need to be in a hospital. Being at home is often cheaper, more comfortable, more familiar and gives those with HIV more control of their life. In fact, people with HIV-related illnesses often get better faster and with less discomfort at home with the help of a carer.

If you are caring for someone at home, remember that each person reacts to the virus in different physical and psychological ways. Regular updates from the person's doctor or nurse on what kind of care is needed can and should be sought.

Many times what is needed is not medical care, but help with both coming to terms with emotional issues and the carrying out of the normal chores of life: shopping, paying bills, cleaning the house, and so on.

Caring for someone with HIV is a serious responsibility, which can create a situation as stressful for the carer as for the person who is unwell, so taking care of yourself as well as the person with HIV is important. You will have to work with the person to decide what needs to be done, how much you can do, and when additional help is needed.

Want to learn more about HIV?

  • Visit the links on thi page for more information and resources
  • Visit your local Carers' Centre to access the services and opportunities they provide
  • Or you can meet other carers – who are usually more than happy to share their knowledge and experience with you – by posting messages on our discussion boards or visiting our online chat room.

Browse these links for the web's best information resources on HIV/AIDS:

Terence Higgins Trust




National AIDS Trust (NAT)

The Global Health Council

Project Inform (US based, but has information on research and treatement)

International HIV/AIDS Alliance

NHS Choices: HIV