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How common is HIV?

In the UK HIV has hit gay and bisexual men the hardest. We are still the group at highest risk of getting infected.

There’s been a steady rise in the number living with HIV since 2000. About one in four gay and bisexual men with HIV don’t realise they have it.

The number of men with HIV will be higher or lower depending on what type of crowd or venue you’re in and where you are in the UK: for example, it’s highest in London and Brighton and also high in Manchester and Birmingham. It’s a lot higher among men involved with the hard sex and fetish scene.

What causes HIV infection?

HIV is a virus that weakens the immune system. Having HIV can lead to AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). AIDS is the term used to describe the point when a person’s immune system can no longer cope because of damage caused by HIV and specific illnesses start to appear.

What are the symptoms of HIV infection?

If you’re infected with HIV you won’t usually get any symptoms straight away. But in the weeks after infection you may get flu-like symptoms (called a ‘sero-conversion illness’) with any of the following:

  • fever
  • sore throat
  • a rash on the body.

Many people don’t get these. And they can be caused by lots of other common infections. So if someone gets them they’d be wrong to think they definitely have HIV.

For months or years after you get infected, HIV may cause no symptoms. But over time, you may get symptoms of infections and diseases caused by your immune system getting weaker, such as swollen glands, losing weight, thrush in the mouth and throat and other infections that don’t clear up easily.

How is HIV infection treated?

There’s no vaccine or cure for HIV. If you have HIV, many of the illnesses you may get can be treated or kept under control with drugs. Drugs can also lower the amount of HIV made in your body, usually meaning better health. If someone is tested and begins treatment before HIV damages their immune system too much, HIV drugs work very well and studies suggest they can expect to stay in work and live a good and long life.

You might not be given drugs straight away. Tests are done to see how well your body is fighting HIV before decisions are made about treatment. The treatment may be different depending on where you’re being treated.

More information

Find out how HIV is passed on and about HIV testing.

Last review: 25/09/2014
Next review: 31/09/2017