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HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus)

Please click the frequently asked questions below for further information and IPC precautions required:

  • What is HIV?

    The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a retrovirus that causes chronic infection, which results in progressive failure of the immune system, specifically the CD4 cells (sometimes called T cells).

    HIV infection is contracted through exposure to blood or body fluids from an infected person. Newly infected individuals may develop a flu-like illness 2 to 4 weeks post-exposure, called seroconversion illness. Following this, HIV infection becomes latent and asymptomatic and without treatment will develop into AIDS in 3 to 20 years.

    AIDS is defined as either when an HIV infected person’s CD4 count falls below 200 cells per µL or when specific HIV-associated infections or diseases develop such as pneumocystis pneumonia (PcP), oesophageal candidiasis or HIV wasting syndrome (cachexia). Survival once AIDS has been diagnosed is approximately 3 years if untreated.

  • How does it spread?

    The most common route for HIV infection is via sexual contact with an infected partner, particularly among men who have sex with men (MSM), but the virus can also be spread by sharing drug injecting equipment, vertical transmission during childbirth or from breast milk, occupational exposure to infected blood/body fluids e.g. needlestick injury from an infected patient, or from blood and blood products transfusion (though uncommon in developed countries due to screening processes).

    Due to advances in medical treatment with antiretroviral drugs, people with HIV can have a near normal life span and may never develop AIDS.  There is no vaccine for HIV infection however there is post exposure prophylaxis (PEP) available for those who have come into contact with, infected bodily fluids, which significantly reduces the risk of contracting the virus. Pre-exposure prophylaxis for those at risk may also reduce the risk of infection. In Northern Ireland, PrEP is available to people who are considered to be at higher risk of contracting HIV.

  • What are the main symptoms of HIV?

    Symptoms of HIV infection include fever, lymphadenopathy, rash and headache.

  • IPC Precautions
    • Standard precautions should be used – this includes standard IPC practices in relation to blood/ body fluids and handling of sharps.
    • Hand Hygiene should be completed as per the 5 moments in line with usual practice/
    • Eye protection should always be risk assessed and used with any patient where there is a risk of splashes including spitting and productive coughing.
    • Gloves and Aprons should be risk assessed.
    • Laundry should be treated as per usual policy unless contaminated with blood or body fluids.
  • What cleaning is required?

    All equipment and the ambulance should have an in-between patient clean, paying particular attention to touch points.

  • Why is this information important?

    If NIAS staff are aware that the patient has a suspected or confirmed HIV it is important to ensure standard precautions are followed. There is no need for the patient to travel alone.

  • Do staff need prophylaxis or follow up?

    No follow up is required for staff unless there has been a needle stick injury or exposure to non-intact skin areas with blood or body fluids.