HIV/AIDS

HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) damages the immune system. It’s spread through unprotected sex and contact with infected blood.

Summary

If you think there is any risk that you may have HIV, then you must have an HIV test. There are sexual health clinics all over New Zealand.

There isn’t a vaccine or cure for HIV, but antiretroviral drugs can help protect your immune system if you have the virus.

More people than ever are living with HIV, largely due to greater access to treatment.

Without drug treatment, HIV weakens the immune system so the body is no longer able to protect itself against infections and diseases, such as pneumonia and cancers, that a normal immune system would fight off. When a person has HIV and one or more of these infections or cancers, they are said to have AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome).

Not everyone that has HIV develops AIDS, largely thanks to advances in medications.

People who are diagnosed with AIDS can recover and regain their health, but they will still be HIV positive.

You can protect yourself from HIV by practising safe sex and safe injecting behaviour.

At-risk groups

In New Zealand, the early epidemic of HIV infection and AIDS was highly concentrated among men who had sex with men.This is still the group most at risk of getting HIV in New Zealand.

The number of people infected with HIV through heterosexual contact is low, but transmission does happen and it is important that every person who is sexually active practises safe sex.

While there continues to be a small number of HIV diagnoses through injecting drug use, HIV prevention needs to continue to be maintained in this high-risk population.

Pre-exposure prophylaxis

HIV Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is an HIV prevention method for people who do not have HIV, but are at risk. By taking a pill every day, they can reduce their risk of becoming infected with HIV.

See the New Zealand AIDS Foundation for more information on PrEP.


Related websites

AIDS Epidemiology Group-Te Hunga Aroturuki Mate ārai Kore (AEG)
AEG runs surveillance of AIDS and HIV infection in New Zealand. Information on HIV and AIDS trends is found in the AEG’s Newsletters.

New Zealand Aids Foundation
Provides free HIV tests and information for people living with HIV and AIDS.

Ending HIV
A campaign that aims to mobilise men who have sex with men (MSM) towards the goal of ending new HIV transmission in New Zealand by 2025.

Body Positive
A support group for people living with HIV and AIDS.

Positive Women
A support organisation for women and families living with HIV and AIDS.

HIV Essentials Online Course
Provides accessible, accurate and up-to-date information on HIV prevention, treatment and stigma.

New Zealand Needle Exchange Programme
Provides support and advice on harm reduction and collects and safely disposes of equipment used for injecting drug use.

National Screening Unit
Runs the antenatal HIV screening programme

New Zealand Sexual Health Society
A professional body dedicated to advocating and promoting Sexual Health for all in New Zealand

NZPC Aotearoa New Zealand Sex Worker’s Collective
Advocates for the rights, safety, health, and well being of all sex workers.

Symptoms

Getting tested is the best way to find out if you have HIV.

  • Your doctor, Family Planning clinic, sexual health clinic or the New Zealand AIDS Foundation can arrange the blood test.
  • The result is confidential.

Most people get flu-like symptoms a few weeks after being infected with HIV, but these symptoms are often missed.

About 10–12 years after getting infected, people with HIV who aren’t on drug treatments often get illnesses such as pneumonia and cancer because their immune system is weakened.

Treatment

People with HIV can live relatively normal lives with drug treatment. Treatment and care for people with HIV is of a high standard with a good range of antiretroviral agents funded.

Testing, treatment and care are provided in a number of health settings, including general practice, sexual health centres, community-based centres, special units based in major hospitals, and hospices.

If you have HIV, your doctor will normally prescribe a combination of antiretroviral drugs to stop the virus damaging your immune system.

Once you start the treatment, you’ll probably need to keep taking the drugs for the rest of your life.

You may need to change drugs if the virus becomes resistant or if you get serious side effects.

If you’ve got HIV, you’ll also be eligible for free influenza vaccine each year.

Prevention

You can protect yourself from HIV by practising safe sex and safe injecting behaviour.

Safe sex

It isn’t possible for HIV to pass through an intact latex condom.

Using condoms and water-based lubricant correctly every time you have vaginal or anal sex reduces the risk of getting HIV by around 95%.

Don’t share needles

If you inject yourself with drugs, it’s important to use new needles and syringes.

Blood is left on syringes and needles every time they’re used. If you share injecting equipment, you can catch HIV from another person’s blood if they are infected.

Needle and syringe exchange programmes exist in pharmacies and community groups throughout New Zealand. A list of outlets is available from the New Zealand Needle Exchange Programme website.

HIV antenatal screening

Women with HIV can pass it on to their babies during pregnancy, birth and while breastfeeding. If you’re pregnant, you’ll be offered a screening test for HIV at the same time as you have your other blood tests, as a routine part of your antenatal care. The screening programme is run by the National Screening Unit.

If you’re found to have HIV, you’ll be offered treatment that reduces the chance of your baby becoming infected from approximately 25% to less than 2%.

Pre-exposure prophylaxis

HIV Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is an HIV prevention method for people who do not have HIV, but are at risk. By taking a pill every day, they can reduce their risk of becoming infected with HIV.

See the New Zealand AIDS Foundation for more information on PrEP.

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