Teen Talk is not a crisis/help service. If you need help now, click here.

HIV

HIV is a virus that attacks the immune system, which then weakens the body’s ability to fight disease and infection.  A common infection like the flu or a cold can be very difficult for the body to fight off after the immune system has been weakened by HIV. There is no cure for HIV but there are treatments.

People do not pass on AIDS. HIV is the virus that is being passed and then over time it may develop into AIDS. Someone is diagnosed with AIDS when HIV has weakened their immune system to the point where they have one or more infection that they can no longer fight off. Once someone’s HIV develops into AIDS, they may become very sick and this could lead to death.

Statistics Canada indicate that roughly 65 000 Canadians live with HIV and 26% of those infected don’t know it.  Anyone can get HIV, no matter who they are, if they have unsafe behavior.

What does HIV/AIDS stand for?
HIV
Human: HIV only affects humans (you can’t get it from mosquitoes!)
Immuno-deficiency: “Immuno” means immune system which is the part of our body that fights off infection. “Deficiency” means there is something wrong. So “immuno-deficiency” means that there something wrong with the immune system.
Virus: There are currently no cures for viruses, only treatment. Once someone gets HIV, they will generally have it until it turns to AIDS. When it becomes AIDS, someone would be very sick.

AIDS
Acquired: AIDS is something you get from HIV. You cannot “get AIDS” from someone, only HIV. Overtime, HIV can progress to become AIDS. That is why ’A’ stands for “acquired.”
Immune: “Immune” stands for Immune System
Deficiency: “Deficiency” means there is something wrong.
Syndrome: A syndrome is a combination of things that make you sick. So if someone has AIDS, certain infections like pneumonia, diarrhea, STI or even certain types of cancers which their body can normally fight off, now have an opportunity to make you seriously sick. These are called “Opportunistic Infections.”
People get HIV, and then over time, it becomes AIDS.
There is no cure for AIDS, but there are treatments.
HIV is a reportable STI, which means if you are diagnosed with it, you have to tell your past and current sexual partners. If you are uncomfortable contacting your partners, the Department of Health will contact them for you and tell them to go for testing. Your name would not be mentioned but your partners will be informed somehow.

How do people get HIV?
The only bodily fluids that can spread HIV are:

Unsafe Fluids

The only bodily fluids that can spread HIV are:
Blood
Sex Fluids (Semen/pre-cum, vaginal fluids, or anal fluids)
Breast Milk
This means that all other bodily fluids are safe from getting HIV. Saliva, tears, sweat, urine, and vomit are no risk of passing HIV. That means you can shake hands or share a bottle of water after with someone with HIV and have next to no risk of getting the virus. The only time there is risk is if blood, sex fluids or breast milk are being shared.

Risky Behaviours

Higher Risk:
Breast Feeding: HIV can be passed from an HIV+ parent breastfeeding a child through breast milk.
Sharing Needles: Sharing needles for IV drugs, insulin, steroids or other things.
Unprotected Sex: Vaginal or anal sex without a condom.
Sharing Sex Toys: Sharing sex toys means sharing sex fluids that can pass HIV.
Lower Risk:
Sharing needles used for piercing and tattoos (including home piercing and tattoos)
Fighting: risk of exchanging blood through cuts or split knuckles
Oral sex: there is a lower risk for HIV, but a higher risk for other STI
“Blood Buddies” & “Bloody Knuckles”
Sharing cutting equipment
Some of these lower risk activities are higher risk for Hepatitis C, which is also passed by blood.

HIV Testing
Going a get HIV testing regularly is an important part of being healthy. Experts say that 1/3 of Canadians who live with HIV don’t realize they are infected, and are probably not taking proper care of themselves, as well as possibly infecting other people.

At Teen Talk, we would recommend getting an HIV test (as well as other STI testing) every time you engage in a risky behavior or at least once a year. You can get an HIV test done by your doctor, at a walk-in clinic, or at a Teen Clinic.

An HIV test is a blood test. A nurse or a doctor would take a small amount of your blood, and then send it away for testing.

These tests can take up to two weeks to come back, and they will ask you to come back to receive your results in person. This is because they don’t want to give that kind of information out over the phone.

During that two week wait, people can feel lots of emotions including feeling anxious, frustrated, angry, in denial, and/or scared; fear of what it will mean for their lives, relationships, career, health, as well as the stigma that can exist around HIV.

If the test comes back positive, the doctor will tell them a list of things they need to do to keep themselves healthy such as taking the proper medications, resting, eating well, reducing drug and alcohol use, joining a support group, and getting counseling.

When someone’s test comes back with a negative result (meaning they don’t have any signs of HIV in their blood), the nurse or doctor will ask you to come back after 1-3 months to get tested again. This is because of the HIV window period.

HIV Window Period

There is a 1-3 month window period for HIV to show itself in someone’s blood after the point of infection. A person could pass HIV to another person right away, but HIV wouldn’t show up on a test until after the window period.

So, let’s say you went to a party and ended up having sex with someone. Then you forgot to pinch the tip of the condom before putting it on, and the condom broke, meaning you had unprotected sex. The next day, you thought, “Wow that was pretty risky. I’m going to go down and get an HIV test done to be on the safe side.”

After getting an HIV test, the healthcare provider would ask you to come back after 3 months for another test, because HIV probably wouldn’t show up on the test the very next day. Do you think that people always go back for their second test? No, unfortunately they don’t always do that. But it’s really important that they do as HIV can show up the second test and not on their first one!

Living with HIV
If someone were to become infected with HIV by taking part in one of the above risky behaviours they might experience some flu-like symptoms within the first few weeks. More often though, people do not experience any physical symptoms so the only way to know is to get tested.

After someone becomes HIV positive it could take 7-10 years for them to show any signs of being sick. If someone is also engaging in heavy alcohol or drug use, this period can be much shorter. This period is called Chronic Infection. It’s important to know that during this period, someone can still infect other people with HIV if they are taking part in risky behaviours. Upon being infected with HIV, you can give to someone else almost immediately if you are engaged in risky behaviours such as unprotected sex.

Over a number of years, HIV will target the white blood cells in the immune system and destroy them. Eventually, someone will have a very difficult time fighting off certain cancers and even common infections such as a cold, the flu, or diarrhea. Once someone has more than one infection that they can’t fight off, they would be diagnosed with AIDS, which would mean they have become very sick and could die because of it.

If someone found out they had HIV early on they could live a long life with HIV without it progressing into AIDS. If someone took really good care of themselves (eating well, getting lots of rest, staying away from drugs and alcohol) and took the necessary treatments, they could live their lives without having any symptoms for up to 20 to 30 years. Magic Johnson, a former basketball player, for example, has been living with HIV since 1991 without it progressing to AIDS.

Stigma

Stigma can mean negative judgment or ignoring an issue or a person and can cause fear or shame. If someone is living with HIV, sometimes it can be really hard to deal with the people around them who are stigmatizing them and treating them badly. Stigma usually exists because of a lack of good and accurate information.

If we know someone who has HIV, we can be close with them! The only fluids that can transmit the virus are pre-cum/semen, vaginal fluids, anal fluids, breast milk, and blood. All other fluids are safe from the virus. So we can still hug or even kiss someone with HIV with no risk.

Treatment

There is no cure for HIV, but there is treatment. Treatment works to improve the health of someone living with HIV by building their immune system back up. The earlier someone begins treatment (as well as taking good care of themselves) the more effective the treatment can be.
The medication that someone would take to treat HIV can cause a variety of side effects, which can make make it hard to take them. Newer and better treatments are coming out all the time though, which means less and less people living with HIV are actually getting to the AIDS stage of the virus.