Be Safe.

Human Immunodeficiency Virus

{HIV}

Also Known as:

The Hiv

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a virus that attacks the body’s immune system. There is no cure for HIV, but medication can reduce the amount of virus in the body and help you to stay healthy. Many people with the virus can now live longer and healthier lives. Without treatment, HIV damages the immune system and may become Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS). That’s when the body can no longer protect itself from infections.

Risk of transmission

HIV is passed from one person to another through blood, semen (including pre-cum), rectal fluid, vaginal fluid, and breast milk.

The two most common ways that HIV is passed from one person to another is:

  • Through unprotected sex (anal or vaginal sex without a condom)
  • By sharing needles or other equipment to inject drugs (including steroids)

HIV can also be passed by:

  • Having oral sex without a condom or dental dam (a piece of latex used to cover the vulva or anus)
  • Sharing sex toys
  • Sharing needles or ink to get a tattoo
  • Sharing needles or jewelry to get a body piercing
  • Sharing acupuncture needles
  • A woman to her fetus or baby during pregnancy, birth, or breastfeeding
  • HIV can also be passed Shared needles or other drug paraphernalia such as pipes, cookers etc.

Most people who are infected will test positive on blood tests within 2-4 weeks but it could take as long as 3 months to show up on a blood test. You may need to get a repeat blood test depending on when you were potentially exposed to the virus.

How it’s NOT spread

You will not get/pass on HIV from the following:

  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Touching or shaking hands
  • Swimming pools
  • Bed sheets or towels
  • Forks, spoons, cups or food
  • Insects or animals
  • Using toilet seats or water fountains
  • Hugs or kisses

Prevention

Get tested for other STIs because they can increase your chance of getting HIV.

Do not share drug equipment such as needles, crack pipes, straws or mouthpieces.

Use new needles and drug equipment every time you inject.

For someone who knows they will be having intercourse or may be exposed to bodily fluids of someone with HIV, they can consider pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) to prevent transmission of HIV. This is not without risks and requires consultation with a doctor.

http://www.catie.ca/en/fact-sheets/prevention/pre-exposure-prophylaxis-prep

 

For someone with a likely exposure to HIV through contact with blood, breast milk, vaginal or anal secretions, post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) can reduce the risk of becoming infected with HIV. PEP needs to be started within 72 hours of exposure for maximum effect.

http://www.catie.ca/fact-sheets/prevention/post-exposure-prophylaxis-pep

 

Instead of using the term condom. Use barrier methods such as internal and external condoms, dental dams and other barriers such as medical gloves or condom splitting.

Symptoms

Within a few weeks of being infected with HIV, some people may develop flu-like symptoms that last for a week or two, but others may have no symptoms at all. These early symptoms may include:

  • Fever
  • Sore Throat
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches and joint pain
  • Swollen glands (lymph nodes)
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Skin rash
  • Weight loss

Although, it is important to be aware and recognize changes in your body or symptoms that you may be experiencing, the only way you can know for sure that you have HIV is by getting a test. If you have risks for acquiring HIV or think you might have the infection, get tested as soon as possible.

Individuals with HIV are their most infectious during the acute phase of infection (recently infected). While symptoms of having HIV may not yet be apparent, partners/drug use partners are at the highest risk for becoming infected.

Is it curable?

Not yet. But with strict adherence to antiretrovirals (the drugs you take to fight it), the virus can be slowed to a near halt.

Treatment?

While there is no cure, there are effective treatments for HIV. They’re more effective than they used to be, and people with the virus are living longer, healthier lives every day. With adequate care and treatment, most people with HIV can avoid getting AIDS.  Treatments and healthy measures include the following:

  • Antiretrovirals—in the form of daily tablets—interfere with the reproduction of the virus
  • Regular exercise
  • Healthy diet
  • If you’re smoking, stop
  • Yearly flu shots
  • Hepatitis and pneumonia vaccinations to minimize the risk for serious illnesses

Complications

CD4 cells, a type of white blood cell, are an important part of the immune system. HIV enters and destroys CD4 cells. When the CD4 count is low, the body has little resistance against infection making it is easier to get infections or cancers that rarely occur in people with healthy immune systems.

Early treatment reduces harm to the immune system and helps people live healthier lives. Taking medication early may also lower the chances of passing HIV to other people.

Having HIV does not mean you have AIDS. AIDS occurs when a person’s immune system has been severely weakened by HIV. Even without treatment, it takes a long time for HIV to progress to AIDS, usually 10 to 12 years.

AIDS

AIDS-defining illnesses include severe infections, cancers (such as cervical cancer and a skin cancer called Kaposi’s sarcoma), severe herpes outbreaks, brain conditions including dementia, chronic intestinal disturbances, and death.

Pregnancy

Mothers can pass HIV on to their babies before or during birth, and also by breastfeeding.

If you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, talk to your health care provider about ways to prevent passing HIV to your baby. Taking anti-HIV treatment during pregnancy is highly effective way to lower the chances of passing HIV to your baby.

Tests and Diagnose

Testing is performed by blood work.

There are different ways to get tested:

  • A sample of blood taken from the arm is sent to the lab for testing with results usually back in 7 to 10 days
  • A drop of blood is taken from your finger and results are available in a few minutes. This is called the point of care (POC) test or rapid test.

Specific testing sites may have the ability for anonymous HIV testing.

It may take up to three months for an infection to be detectable.

It is important to understand that while HIV is a serious infection, it is now largely considered a chronic disease. HIV can be managed with anti-retroviral medications and frequent medical surveillance.

 

Other resources

What to expect when
getting tested

Get comfortable with the process.

  • What to bring
    to your
    appointment
  • What will
    you be
    asked?
  • What the
    tests
    involve

What to bring
to your
appointment

Your name and contact details and questions about your sexual history.

  • A form of ID (driver's license, passport)
  • Your health care card

What will
you be
asked?

Questions about your recent sexual history.

When you last had sex, whether it was unprotected, what kind of symptoms you have...

What the
tests
involve

A few different potential tests involve procedures that aren’t a huge deal.

Pelvic exams, swab tests, blood tests and or urine tests

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