What is it?

Human Immunodeficiency Virus or HIV is a virus that attacks the immune system and leaves people vulnerable to infections. When the body can no longer fight infection, an HIV infection is known as AIDS, which stands for Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome.

How can you get it?

  • You can get HIV through vaginal or anal sex with a partner who has it. The infection is transmitted when your vagina or anus comes into contact with your partner’s sexual fluids. Sexual fluids include ejaculate, vaginal fluid, and anal fluid.
  • It can also be transmitted through non-sexual activities that put you into contact with someone else’s blood, such as sharing injection drug equipment or at-home tattoo needles.

How do you know if you have it?

Many people with this virus don’t have symptoms. If you do have symptoms, they may include:

  • Flu-like symptoms such as fever, headache, and chills
  • Rapid weight loss
  • Loss of appetite

How is HIV treated?

There is no cure for it, however, medication can be used to manage the infection and help you lead a healthy life.

How are you tested?

HIV is tested for through a blood test. This can be done by drawing blood from your arm, or by pricking your finger to get a few drops of blood. Tests that use the finger-prick method are called rapid HIV tests and can provide results within minutes of being tested.

Tests for it are usually accurate 6 weeks after the sex act or blood-sharing activity that could have exposed you to HIV. Most healthcare providers recommend testing again 3 months after the sex act or blood-sharing activity that might have exposed you to the virus.

How can you help prevent it?

  • Use barriers like condoms and dental dams during sex
  • Do not share drug equipment such as needles or pipes
  • If you think you may have been exposed to the virus through sex act or blood-sharing activities, contact your healthcare provider or call Ontario’s HIV and Sexual Health Info Line at 1-800-668-2437. They should be able to help you access medications called post-exposure prophylaxis, or PEP. These medications can stop the virus from making copies of itself, which reduces the chance that you will develop and HIV infection. PEP works best when started less than 24 hours after the sex act or blood-sharing activity that you’re worried about, though it can be started up to 72 hours afterward. The medications need to be taken every day for 28 days. For more information, check out call the AIDS Committee of Ottawa at
  • The medications used for PEP can also be taken before sex to reduce the risk of HIV. This is called PrEP, or pre-exposure prophylaxis. For more information on PrEP talk to your healthcare provider or the AIDS Committee of Ottawa at 613-238-5014. You can also learn more at
  • If you have HIV, taking your medication regularly can reduce the amount of it in your body. The fewer copies of it there are in the body, the less likely you are to transmit it to a partner during sex.
  • You can also choose to engage in sexual activity that does not pose a high risk of HIV transmission such as giving or receiving a massage, mutual masturbation, or sharing a sexual fantasy.
  • You can also ensure that you and your partner have been tested and do not have the virus before engaging in sexual activity.

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