Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) Overview

HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) damages the cells in the immune system, meaning the person infected has difficulty fighting infection. AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) is the consequence of the HIV infection – the illnesses which result from it. It is HIV which can be transmitted between people, not AIDS. There are over 100,000 people in the UK who have HIV, 7% of whom are unaware that they have the condition.

What are the signs and symptoms of HIV/AIDS?

HIV causes the person to experience flu-like symptoms in the weeks following their infection. Owing to the similarity with the flu, many people do not think to get tested for HIV as they do not suspect they have the condition. These symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Rash
  • Aching muscles
  • Sore throat
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Fatigue

However, people who have unprotected sex, particularly men having sex with other men, are at risk, as well as babies born to mothers who have the condition and people using unsterilised needles.

The symptoms of AIDS – which will result from untreated HIV – are:

  • Rapid weight loss
  • Recurring fever
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Prolonged diarrhoea
  • Bodily sores
  • Memory loss
  • Pneumonia

How does HIV/AIDS get diagnosed and treated?

People who are at risk – men having homosexual sex, injecting drug users and Black African men and women – should undergo regular testing. This is free on the NHS.

If a person thinks they may have come into contact with the virus, they can obtain a drug called post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP), which, if taken initially in the 72 hours after exposure, can stop an infection. The course of PEP lasts one month.

The antiretroviral drugs used to treat HIV if a person has been infected need to be taken daily to stop the virus replicating and to allow the immune system to return to normal.

It is possible to achieve undetectable levels of the virus within six months of taking the correct medication.

A doctor will also arrange psychological support for someone diagnosed with HIV, as mental health problems often occur in these people.

There are a few ways to determine whether an employee with HIV/AIDS might require reasonable adjustments:

There is no legal obligation for an employee to tell their employer about their HIV, unless they undertake invasive work, such as in a healthcare capacity. However, an employer can ask indirect questions to determine whether their employee will require any adjustments in the workplace, or more direct questions should the employee choose to disclose their condition.

  • Have they required adjustments in the past? This is not always the case, as HIV can be managed with medication.
  • Encouraging the employee to express their strengths and interests and which tasks they might enjoy doing is a positive way of adapting to their needs and empowering them, in spite of their HIV/AIDS.

What reasonable adjustments are possible for employees with HIV/AIDS?

Employers have a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments for employees with HIV/AIDS if they know, are aware of, or could ‘reasonably be expected to know’ that the employee has HIV/AIDS. Most employees will tell their employer what reasonable adjustments they need. They often involve simple changes in the way an employer might usually do things.

If the employee does not disclose a health issue or disability which may affect their performance upfront, an employer should broach the subject sensitively if they suspect that there may be a disability behind the employee’s reduced performance. Reasonable adjustments can then be made in accordance with the employee’s needs, including, in the case of HIV/AIDS:

  • Accommodating home or remote working: this can help if the employee’s antiretroviral medication causes them side effects such as fatigue and nausea, which may make commuting and working in an office more difficult.
  • Flexible working hours: to allow the employee to attend appointments and to allow them to break if their medication’s side effects are particularly severe.
  • Raising awareness so that colleagues understand the employee’s HIV/AIDS and can help ensure the employee feels comfortable at work. There has historically been a lot of stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS, so this is especially important to protect the employee’s mental health.

HIV/AIDS Signposting

National AIDS Trust – charity campaigning for change in attitudes to HIV/AIDS and advocating for the rights of people living with the condition (020 7814 6767).

Terence Higgins Trust – the UK’s largest sexual health and HIV charity, working towards an end to HIV and providing support for people living with the condition, particularly involving reducing the stigma surrounding the condition (0808 802 1221).

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