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 don’t pass on AIDS. HIV is the virus that is being passed and over time 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 they can’t fight off. Once HIV develops into AIDS, people can get very sick, this can sometimes lead to death.
There are about 65 000 Canadians living with HIV, and 26% of people don’t know they have it. Anyone can get HIV, no matter who they are, if they have unsafe behavior.
- What does HIV/AIDS stand for?
Human: HIV only affects humans (you can’t get it from mosquitoes!)
Immuno-deficiency: “Immuno” means the 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’s something wrong with the immune system.
Virus: There are currently no cures for viruses, only treatment. Once someone gets HIV, they will have it for the rest of their life. If HIV becomes AIDS, someone would could get very sick.
People get HIV, and then over time, it may become 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’s why the ‘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 can make you sick. So if someone has AIDS, certain infections like pneumonia, diarrhea, STIs or even certain types of cancers which the body could normally fight off, now have an opportunity to make you seriously sick. These are called “opportunistic infections.”
There is no cure for AIDS, but there are treatments.
HIV is a reportable STI, which means if you are diagnosed with it, you are required to let your past and current sexual partners (or others who may have been exposed to the virus) know. If you are uncomfortable contacting partners, a health care provider can contact them. Your name would be kept confidential (private), but any partners would be advised to get tested.
- How do people get HIV?
The only bodily fluids that can spread HIV are:
- Sex fluids (ejaculate, pre-ejaculate, vaginal or anal fluid)
- Breast milk
This means that all other bodily fluids do not spread HIV. Saliva (spit), tears, sweat, urine, and vomit are no risk for passing HIV. That means if we or someone we know has HIV, we can live or play together, share food, hangout or kiss and not be at risk for HIV. The only time there is risk of HIV transmission is if blood, sex fluids or breast milk are being shared.
Higher Risk Behaviours
- Unprotected sex: vaginal or anal sex without a condom.
- Sharing needles: sharing needles for drugs, insulin, steroids or other things.
- Sharing sex toys: sharing sex toys means sharing sex fluids that can pass HIV.
- Breast feeding: HIV can be passed from an HIV+ parent to child through breast milk.
Lower Risk Behaviours
- Sharing needles and equipment used for piercing and tattoos (including home piercing and tattoos)
- Sharing cutting tools
- Oral sex: lower risk for HIV, but higher risk for other STIs
- “blood buddies” & “bloody knuckles”
Some of these lower risk activities are higher risk for Hepatitis C, which is also passed by blood.
- HIV Testing
- HIV testing is an important part of being healthy. It’s easy, just a blood test, but many people have not been tested. Experts say that 1/3 of Canadians who live with HIV don’t know they are infected which means they are not in treatment (which can keep people healthy for longer).
Anyone can ask for an HIV test, and testing is recommended for anyone who,
- is sexually active or has had sex without a condom or sex dam
- has shared a needle or drug works/equipment
- has been sexually assaulted
- is pregnant
How often you get tested really depends on your level of risk. Like all medical tests in Canada, HIV testing is confidential (private) and you can be tested by your doctor, at a walk-in clinic, or at a teen clinic. If you don’t know which doctor to use you can call the Manitoba HIV Program Referral Line at (204)940-6089 or 1-866-449-0165. You can also get more information by calling the Canadian AIDS treatment Information Exchange Hotline at 1-800-263-1638 or visit the website at www.catie.ca.
An HIV test is a blood test. A nurse or a doctor would take a small amount of your blood, and then send it to a lab to be tested. Unless it’s rapid testing (where the results are available right away) you usually go back to the clinic after 2 weeks to find out the results of the test. Most places give HIV test results at the clinic rather than over the phone. This way they can make sure results stay confidential (only you find out) and whatever the outcome, gives you a chance to ask any questions you might have in person.
2 weeks can be a long time to wait to find out the results of an HIV test. People might be feeling anxious, frustrated, angry, in denial, or scared. It’s normal to have these feelings and sometimes it can help to talk to someone you trust about how you are doing.
If the results are positive, there are things you can do for yourself to stay as healthy as possible,
- regularly meeting with your healthcare provider (for example, keep your appointments and try to stay on the treatment plans),
- reducing drug and alcohol use,
- eat as healthy as you can,
- move your body regularly to stay strong and fit,
- and get as much sleep and rest as you can.
Some people also find it helpful to join a support group and/or try counselling.
If the test comes back negative (meaning there is no HIV), the health care provider can talk to you about how to reduce your risks and stay HIV negative. They will usually ask you to come back after 1-3 months to get tested again, this is because HIV has a “window period” when it doesn’t show up on a blood test.
HIV Window Period
There is a 1-3 month window period for HIV to show up 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. 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 get an HIV test done to be on the safe side.”
After getting an HIV test, the health care 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.
- Ways to Stay Safer?
Here are some ways we can keep ourselves and our partners safer from HIV:
- Choosing abstinence (which is the fancy way of saying not having sex). If you aren’t having sex, you aren’t coming into contact with other peoples sex fluids. For more info check out the abstinence section of the Sexuality page.
- Use a condom each time you have sex. Condoms are really effective at stopping the spread of HIV when they’re used correctly. Check here for the instructions on how to use them!
- Talk to your partner about using condoms.
- Get tested regularly. HIV doesn’t have a lot of signs, especially at the beginning and you can’t tell by looking if you or a partner has it. You can get tested for HIV at any teen clinic, nursing station, or health centre.
- Limit the number of sex partners you have (and get tested with every new partner). This can reduce your exposure to HIV and all STIs.
- Use new needles every time for tattoos, piercing, or drug use, this can reduce the risk of HIV or Hep C.
- If you use and share sex toys, wash and dry them according to the instructions in between partners and use a condom on them if possible.
- 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. However, most 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 approximately 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. You can give HIV to someone else almost immediately after being infected 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 could 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.
When we talk about the stigma attached to HIV we mean the negative feelings or disapproval some people have about HIV or the people living with HIV. It can be really hard to deal with a positive HIV diagnosis, especially if the people around you start treating you different or judging you. Stigma usually exists because people don’t have accurate info about HIV, some people are still afraid of catching it from casual contact.
We can all help to reduce the stigma against HIV. When we have accurate information about HIV, like how it’s spread, we know we can be friends or family with people who have HIV! The only fluids that can transmit the virus are blood, sex fluids (pre-ejaculate, ejaculate, vaginal & anal fluids) and breast milk. HIV is not spread through the other body fluids (spit, urine, sweat, tears, saliva, poop, throw up, and boogers). So we can live with, eat with, play sports with, cry with, hug, or kiss someone with HIV without risk.
There is no cure for HIV, but there is treatment. The Manitoba HIV Program helps people find out if they have HIV and helps them to find the health care they need. Anyone in Manitoba can use the program, (204)940-6000 or toll free, 1-888-305-8647.
HIV 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. Newer and better treatments are coming out all the time, which means less and less people living with HIV are actually getting to the AIDS stage of the virus.
Questions About HIV
- What is HIV & AIDS?
- HIV stands for Human Immuno-deficiency Virus. HIV is a virus that attacks the immune system, which then makes it harder for the body to fight off 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.
AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. Someone is diagnosed with AIDS when HIV has weakened their immune system to the point where they have one or more infection they can’t fight off. Once HIV develops into AIDS, someone can become very sick. To learn more about HIV check out the other sections above on this page!
- How do you get HIV?
- Check out the ‘How do people get HIV?’ section above for the answer to this question!
- Where did HIV/AIDS come from?
- They think that humans probably first got HIV from being in contact with the blood of other primates (like chimps), most likely from hunting. To learn more about how HIV is passed from person to person, scroll up and click on ‘How do people get HIV?’ Want to know how to protect yourself from STIs/HIV? Click here!
- How would I know if I have HIV?
- You can’t tell by looking whether or not someone has HIV. The only way to know if you have HIV is to get tested. The test for HIV is a blood test. To learn more, check out the ‘HIV Testing’ section above.
- If I don’t live in a city, how can I get tested for HIV?
- The Manitoba HIV Program helps people find out if they have HIV and helps them to find the health care they need. Anyone in Manitoba can use the program, (204)940-6000 or toll free, 1-888-305-8647. You can also get an HIV test at teen clinic, a nursing station, doctor’s office, hospital, or public health centre.
- Can you get HIV through oral sex?
- The short answer is yes and no. Oral sex without a condom or sex dam (a piece of latex used to cover the vulva or anus) can spread STIs and HIV. So even though HIV transmission from unprotected oral sex isn’t as risky as unprotected vaginal or anal sex, it’s not completely safe either. Any type of sex can be made safer by using condoms or sex dams. Click here to learn more about how to use condoms and sex dams correctly.
- What does it mean if someone is HIV+ (positive) and HIV- (negative)?
- If someone has HIV, then they are “HIV positive”. This means they have tested positive for having HIV in their body. If someone doesn’t have HIV, they are said to be “HIV negative“. This means they have tested negative for having HIV in their body (no HIV).
- Can HIV be cured?
- There is currently no cure for HIV, but there is treatment. HIV 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. Newer and better treatments are coming out all the time, which means less and less people living with HIV are actually getting to the AIDS stage of the virus. For more information, scroll up and check out the ‘Living with HIV’ section.
- Do you have to tell people if you have HIV?
- HIV is a reportable STI. This means that Manitoba Public Health notifies people who may have come into contact with HIV. This means that if someone tests positive for HIV they (or public health) will notify any past or current partners. This is done confidentially and public health doesn’t provide the name of the person with HIV. So they might call past partners and say something like, “We have reason to believe you may have been exposed to HIV. Please come in and get tested.” They want to make sure that anyone who is at risk for HIV can get tested and start treatment if needed.
- How long can HIV live outside the body?
- It kind of all depends. HIV doesn’t live long outside the body, as it dies within minutes in open air outside the body. But, in certain conditions, like the inside of a needle or syringe, HIV can survive for one to three weeks.
- Can you still hang out with someone who has HIV?
- Absolutely, if we have HIV or know someone who does, we can live together, share food, hangout, play sports, touch, or even kiss and not be at risk for HIV. The only unsafe fluids that can pass HIV are blood, sex fluids (pre-cum, semen, vaginal & anal fluid), and breast milk. That means that all other bodily fluids like saliva, sweat and tears are safe! Someone with HIV could cry on your shoulder or you could share a sweaty hug after a basketball game. The two main ways that HIV is spread is through unprotected vaginal or anal sex, and sharing needles. For more information on HIV and how to keep safe from HIV check out the other sections on this page!
- My friend has HIV, can I help them?
- Yes, if a friend has HIV one of the most helpful things you can do is be there to listen and not judge them. People with HIV want the same things from their friends as anyone else. This pretty much boils down to being able to do fun things together, have honest conversations, and feel supported. You could also offer to go with your friend to medical appointments, encourage them to follow their treatment and to take care of themselves. Continuing to hang out and do fun things together is another great way to make the most of any friendship.
We know there can be a lot of stigma (negative judgement) about HIV because a lot of people don’t have accurate information about the virus. Educating yourself and others about HIV can help to reduce the stigma. When we have accurate information, like knowing the fluids that spread HIV and how HIV is spread, we know we can be friends or family with someone who has HIV and not be at risk. For more information on HIV and how to keep safer check out the other sections on this page.
- How many people in Manitoba have HIV?
- According to the 2013 Manitoba HIV report, there are nearly 1200 people living in Manitoba who know they have HIV and receive care from the Manitoba HIV Program. The actual number of people living with HIV is likely higher since this number doesn’t include people who haven’t been tested and don’t know they have the virus.