What is HIV & how is it transmitted?

HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) attacks your body’s immune system, specifically the CD4 cells that help keep the body’s immune system healthy. Untreated, HIV destroys the number of CD4 cells in the body if not treated, making you more vulnerable to infections. Some people can live with HIV for years, and others can get sick very quickly. Not treating HIV as soon as possible can harm your immune system so that the body can’t fight off infections and disease.

What are CD4 – T cells?
These cells play an important role in the immune system and help protect you from infections. A CD4 count measures the amount of these cells in your body. A normal CD4 count for the average person is between 500-1600.  When a person who is HIV positive does not go onto ARV treatement, and their CD4 count drops below 200, their bodies are very vulnerable to infections. This is a signal that the person has Aids.  Aids is the last stage of HIV infection.

How is HIV transmitted
HIV is passed on through sexual intercourse and high-risk exposure to the bodily fluids of an HIV-positive person (and not on treatment), like:

  • blood
  • semen and pre-cum
  • rectal and vaginal fluids
  • breast milk

These fluids must come in contact with an open sore or get directly into the bloodstream for transmission to occur. The skin of the anus is very soft and there are no body fluids to lubricate penetration. This means anal sex may result in very small tears of the anus which can increase the chances of HIV transmission. Unprotected anal sex has the highest risk for HIV transmission, especially for the passive (bottom) partner.

Engage Men’s Health offers free and confidential sexual health services to gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men (MSM) in Johannesburg, Tshwane, Nelson Mandela Bay and Buffalo City – with no judgment. Services include free HIV and other STI testing, free ARV treatment and free PrEP (which prevents HIV). Call or WhatsApp us on 082 607 1686.