HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is a virus that weakens the immune system, the body's defence against disease and illness. If left untreated, HIV will advance to AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome) - the final stage of HIV infection. AIDS can be fatal and is a condition where the body's immune system has been severely weakened, leaving it to be easily compromised by infections or diseases. HIV is spread from person to person through certain bodily fluids. It is possible to have HIV without showing any symptoms. Even if you don't know you have it, it is still possible to pass on HIV to other people.
HIV can be passed through: Blood Semen (including pre-cum) Rectal fluids Vaginal fluids Breast milk
HIV cannot be passed through: Saliva Sweat Urine
You can get HIV through: Vaginal or anal sex without a condom or other prevention methods Sharing needle equipment Birth Breastfeeding
There is currently no cure for HIV, but with proper and consistent treatment, people living with HIV can lead long and healthy lives. Preventing the transmission of HIV requires the consistent and correct use of preventative measures. Today, there are several highly effective preventative methods available.
∙ Condoms: When having sex, condoms are an affordable and effective way of preventing HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.
∙ Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP):This is a daily pill taken by HIV-negative people that stops HIV from establishing itself in the body. To learn more about PrEP click here, or talk to your doctor to see if it's right for you.
∙ Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP): This is an emergency pill that can be taken within 72 hours of potential exposure to HIV to prevent infection. Once prescribed, it must be taken daily for 28 days.
∙ Undetectable viral load: When an HIV-positive person goes on treatment, they can maintain an undetectable viral load, which means that they cannot pass on HIV to their sexual partner(s). When HIV is undetectable, it’s untransmittable (U=U). Learn more about what being undetectable means here.
∙ Harm reduction: These are a set of non-judgmental approaches, practices and strategies grounded in the belief that if people are going to engage in "risky" behaviours, they will do it in the safest way possible. Harm reduction methods provide a safe, supportive and non-judgmental environment to educate people on how to make informed decisions about their own drug use and sexual practices. Harm reduction sites, such as Supervised Consumption Sites (SCS) and Overdose Prevention Sites (OPS) allow people who use drugs to do so in a safe space, providing them with support as needed, in order to prevent and treat diseases such as HIV/AIDS.
Getting tested is the only way to be sure of your HIV status! In Canada, most HIV tests are done with a family health care provider. But, you can also get tested at a local sexual health clinic, a community health centre, and in some cities, anonymous testing sites, for example, within community-based organizations.
When should you get tested? For HIV, there is a “window period” between the moment HIV transmission occurs and when it will show up on a blood test. For most people, HIV can be detected as early as two to three weeks after transmission. For others, it can take up to three months after the initial transmission for tests to show a positive result. It is advised to re-take an HIV test after 3 months to confirm your results. For more information on when you should get tested for HIV, speak to your doctor.
If you have been diagnosed with HIV, it is important that you start treatment immediately. Treatment consists of medication called antiretroviral therapy (A.R.T.). If HIV medication is taken daily and consistently, the amount of HIV in your system will diminish and you will be able to continue living a healthy and long life.
U=U If you are HIV-positive and consistently taking treatment, the amount of HIV in your blood (viral load) will decrease to the point where it is undetectable on a blood test. If this is maintained, you will not be able to pass on HIV to your sexual partner(s). In other words, when HIV is undetectable, it’s untransmittable (U=U).
Many people living with HIV still experience unfair treatment due to their actual, or suspected HIV status. Most often, HIV-related stigma arises from fear and ignorance, or existing prejudices about groups of people most affected by HIV. These include gay men, Indigenous people, people of colour, and injecting drug users. However, HIV does not discriminate. It affects people of all genders, races, sexualities, backgrounds, and lifestyles.
Attitudes and opinions of Canadians toward people living with HIV, assessed in a 2012 national study, found that 55 percent of Canadians felt that people living with HIV experience difficulty in basic activities, such as finding housing, healthcare or employment, due to existing stigma.
The People Living with HIV Stigma Index is a community-based research and action project that is conducted for HIV-positive people by HIV-positive people. It aims to understand the experiences of people living with HIV who have been affected by stigma and discrimination in 50 countries around the world. It also analyzes the trends around HIV stigma, while addressing the key barriers that perpetuate stigma. Click here to learn more about the project.
Stigma can only be changed through awareness, acceptance, understanding, and compassion.
We must use our Voices to challenge discrimination everywhere it exists. #Voices4HIV #VoixSIDA