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HIV/AIDS

HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is a virus that destroys cells vital to a person’s immune system. It robs the body of its ability to fight other infections and illnesses. HIV makes the immune system weaker. When this happens, other infections can occur and Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) develops. AIDS is the advanced stage of HIV infection.

 

How is HIV spread?

  • By having unprotected vaginal, oral or anal sex with someone who is infected
  • Sharing needles or other drug equipment (i.e. cookers and crack pipes) with someone who is infected
  • Receiving infected blood or blood products (Since November 1985 in Canada, all blood and blood products are tested for HIV antibodies)
  • During pregnancy, childbirth or through breastfeeding, an infected mother can pass the virus to her child
  • Tattooing, skin piercing or acupuncture with unsterilized needles that have been in contact with the virus
 
HIV/AIDs Ribbon
 

HIV cannot be spread by:

  • Sweat, spit, tears, clothes, phones, toilet seats or drinking fountains
  • Touching or hugging someone who is HIV positive or by working, living or having non-sexual contact with someone who is HIV positive
  • Mosquitoes or other insects that have made contact with infected blood

What are the symptoms of HIV? 

Some people may have mild flu like symptoms 2-6 weeks after becoming infected with HIV.  These symptoms usually go away after a few weeks.  

Most people do not have symptoms until years after becoming infected.  Once the immune system is weakened, the following symptoms may develop:

  • Fever or sweats
  • Joint or muscle pain
  • Skin rashes
  • Swollen glands
  • Sore throat
  • Low energy
  • Headaches
  • Rapid, unexplained weight loss
  • Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea

How can I be tested for HIV?

A blood test is done.  

What is the HIV window period?

The HIV blood test is looking for HIV antibodies.  Antibodies are the body’s response to infection. They are found in the blood when someone has been exposed to the virus.  HIV antibodies can take up to 13 weeks to show up in the blood after someone has been infected.  This period after exposure but before antibodies are present is called the window period.  A person needs to have their HIV test repeated if 13 weeks have not passed since potential exposure.  A negative test during the window period should be repeated when the window period is over.  

If antibodies are detected in your blood, this means you are HIV positive.

How is HIV treated?

There are medications a person can take if they are HIV positive to help keep their immune system healthy.  People with HIV/AIDS need to make a commitment to manage this infection and be monitored closely by a health care provider. 

What about partners?

Individuals who test positive for HIV are asked to tell all sexual partners so they can be tested.  A public health nurse is able to help contact sexual partners as needed.

Things to think about:

After infection, people may not feel or look sick for years. However, they can still pass on HIV to others.  Over time, the immune system becomes damaged and HIV-infected people may become sick with various illnesses.  Most experts agree that HIV is no longer a death sentence but a chronic long-term disease.

How can I reduce my chances of getting and spreading HIV?

  • Avoid sex.
  • Use a condom/dental dam every time you have sex.
  • Never share needles or other equipment for injecting drugs.
  • Do not share sex toys.
  • Ensure that tattoo, body piercing and acupuncture establishments use sterilized needles and equipment.

What is Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP)?

PrEP is when a person who is HIV-negative and at risk of contracting HIV takes a medication to decrease their risk of becoming HIV-positive.

Who would qualify for Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP)?

PrEP can be used by people who are at risk of contracting HIV. This includes men or transgender women who have sex with men, people who engage in sex work, and intravenous (IV) drug users who have one of the following risk factors:

  • Condomless vaginal or anal sex
  • A sexual partner with one or more HIV risk factors
  • A history of a STI in the past six months

PrEP can also be used by someone who has a sexual partner who is HIV-positive and who is not virally suppressed on medication. Learn more →

Get tested:

  • After any type of unprotected sex 
  • After your last partner and with a new partner

To protect against STIs, get vaccinated against hepatitis A, B, and HPV.

 

 

Contact Us

For more information, please contact The Clinic at 519-663-5317.

 
Date of creation: September 1, 2011
Last modified on: August 27, 2020
 

References

1Canadian Federation for Sexual Health Retrieved from
http://www.cfsh.ca/Your_Sexual_Health/STIs-and-HIV/
2The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada Retrieved from
http://www.sexualityandu.ca