What is it?
HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a viral infection that affects your immune system. People living with HIV are usually more susceptible to infections and colds such as pneumonia; however, if a person with HIV engages in a healthy lifestyle that includes regular treatment and good diet and exercise, she/he can maintain a relatively healthy immune system for many years.
HIV is the initial infection that people contract and AIDS is the late stage of HIV where a person’s immune system is very low and specific AIDS related illnesses keep recurring in that person. Although uncommon, it is possible for a person to bounce back from an AIDS diagnosis to a regular HIV status.
How can you get it?
HIV is not an easy STI to contract. In order to get HIV three things need to take place simultaneously:
1. An infected bodily fluid needs to be present. Only four fluids can transmit the HIV virus and they include: blood, semen, vaginal fluid and breast milk.
2. There needs to be a point of entry into your bloodstream. This means that there needs to be a bleeding cut for one of the infected bodily fluids to enter through. A bleeding cut can be a microscopic tear that is painless and impossible to see. The fragile lining of the vagina and anus can receive small tears through friction that occur during sex.
3. A risk activity must take place, in order for the infected bodily fluid to be forced into the bloodstream. There are three categories of risk to consider: high risk, low risk and theoretical risk. High risk activities pose the most danger in terms of contracting HIV; low risk activities do not transmit HIV as often and theoretical risk activities are ones that do not account for any current cases of HIV that we know of but in theory could transmit the virus. Deep kissing is an example of this. As far as we know deep kissing cannot be attributed to any cases of HIV to this date; however in theory if all 3 things are present, the virus can potentially be passed that way.
~Unprotected vaginal and anal sex are high risk activities.
~Sharing needles and other drug equipment such as crack pipes poses a risk.
~Giving oral sex is a low risk activity, whereas receiving oral sex is a theoretical risk activity.
~Protected vaginal and anal sex are low risk activities.
~Pregnant women can pass HIV on to their fetus or to their baby at the time of delivery or through breastfeeding; however, where a pregnant woman takes proper precautions and is monitored closely and continues with treatment during the pregnancy, the chances of passing HIV on to her baby are vastly reduced to 2%.
How likely am I to get HIV?
Higher risk activities pose more risk for contracting HIV
How do you know if you have it?
Many people do not experience symptoms for months or even years after contracting HIV so it is important for people who are sexually active to get tested for HIV regularly, every 3-6 months.
Some symptoms may include the following:
• Dry cough and sore throat
• Experiencing abnormal shortness of breath
• Constant flu-like symptoms
• Rapid weight loss
• Loss of appetite
• Thrush, which is a yeast infection in the throat
*These can also be symptoms of many other infections in your body, thus is important to get tested to find out*
How is it treated?
There is no cure for HIV but anti-retroviral drugs can be taken in order to reduce the symptoms and viral loads in the body.
How can you help prevent it?
Although the risk levels vary, you can contract HIV by oral, anal or vaginal sex:
• A condom on a penis
• A condom cut length-wise or a dental dam over the vulva/anus
• If you are giving, avoid brushing your teeth or flossing soon before
• A condom on a penis/sex toy
• Use plenty of lube, lube is your friend!
• Take care of your anal health
• A condom on a penis/sex toy
• A female condom inserted in the woman’s vagina
A baby can contract HIV through the birthing process:
• Get tested before giving birth
• HIV positive women can take anti-retroviral drugs during pregnancy in order to reduce the chance of transmitting HIV to their child
• The government of Ontario supplies formula to HIV positive mothers for up to one year after the birth of a child
You can contract HIV by sharing needles or from unsanitary tattooing/piercing instruments:
• Not just needles; everything new everytime
• Make sure you check out the tattoo/piercing parlour before getting tattooed or pierced
• Make sure you see the tattoo artist/piercer open new needles and throw-out used needles
Where can you get tested?
In Ottawa you can get an anonymous test at the Sexual Health Centre (179 Clarence Street) and many of the community health centres. You can also get a confidential test at a regular doctor’s office. For a complete list of anonymous testing sites contact
613-563-AIDS. The Sexual Health Centre also has confidential testing available, so when making an appointment, it is important to specify if you want an anonymous test.
How are you tested?
• A blood test is required in order to find out if you are positive for HIV anti-bodies (the test does not look for the virus itself, but rather anti-bodies). Rapid HIV is also available at some locations. Rapid testing involves testing a small drop of blood and it can produce a test result within minutes.
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|Insight Theatre, a Planned Parenthood Ottawa program, is a unique non-profit, public education theatre program created by, for and about youth.