What causes HIV infection and AIDS?
HIV infection is caused by a virus. AIDS is a disease that can result from HIV infection. HIV attacks your body’s immune system, making it unable to fight certain illnesses. If you are HIV-positive (infected with HIV):
your infection could progress to AIDS if you develop a serious illness, such as pneumonia (a lung infection)
you may develop AIDS in 5 to 10 years if you do not get treatment for HIV infection
you can live a near-normal lifespan if you start treatment early for HIV infection
How is HIV spread?
HIV is spread by infected body fluids, such as:
fluid from the rectumf
luid from the vagina
HIV can only spread when infected fluid from a person with HIV gets into the bloodstream of another person through:
wet linings of the body, such as the
the opening of the penis
HIV cannot spread through:
healthy, unbroken skin
casual contact, such as:
If you have HIV, you can pass the virus to your baby during:
You can only spread HIV, not AIDS. That is, whether you have HIV or AIDS, you can only infect others with HIV.
What are the symptoms of being HIV-positive and AIDS?
Although AIDS can develop after you have been infected with HIV, the symptoms are different.
You may develop mild flu-like symptoms 2 to 4 weeks after becoming infected with HIV. Common early symptoms include:
swollen glands (lymph nodes)
The symptoms of HIV infection will go away on their own. You may be HIV-positive and not know it because you may not experience any more symptoms for 5 to 10 years.
AIDS will eventually develop if you do not seek treatment for HIV infection. Starting treatment early for HIV can help you live a near-normal lifespan.
Symptoms of AIDS include:
pneumonia (a lung infection)
cancerous tumours on the skin
fungal infections, such as yeast infections
viral infections, such as shingles
unexplained weight loss
What do you do if you become ill?
If you think you may have the symptoms of HIV or AIDS, see a health care provider to get:
If you have been infected, it is important that others you have had close contact with are notified, such as:
your past and current sex partners
people you have shared drug paraphernalia with, such as:
Telling your sex partner(s)
If you are uncomfortable telling a sex partner that you have HIV, ask your health care provider for help. He or she can:
notify your past sex partner(s) without revealing your identity
give you support and information on how to tell your past and current sex partner(s)
In Canada, the law may require you to tell your sex partner(s) you have HIV before you have sex.
Risks of HIV & AIDS
What are the risks of getting HIV and developing AIDS?
The risks of getting HIV and having the infection develop into AIDS are as follows.
The risks of getting HIV are mostly behaviour-based. You can get HIV by:
having sex with an infected person without using a condom during:
performing oral sex without a condom
this is considered low risk unless you have open sores or cuts in your mouth
using a condom during oral sex can reduce the risk
sharing sex toys you insert into your body without cleaning them between partners
having broken skin or open wounds come in contact with infected:
sharing drug paraphernalia with an infected person, such as:
You cannot develop AIDS unless you are infected with HIV. Most HIV infections will develop into AIDS. You can reduce the risk of developing AIDS by starting treatment.
Who is most at risk?
You are at higher risk of HIV infection if you:
already have another sexually transmitted infection (STI), because of:
your weakened immune system
open sores on your skin caused by an STI, such as herpes or syphilis
have sex with many sex partners without using a condom
receive a blood transfusion or organ transplant while in a country that does not properly check for contaminated:
Some people are at higher risk because of whom they have sex with. For example, certain groups, such as men who have sex with men, have a higher rate of HIV infection. People in these groups are more likely to meet a partner with HIV infection.
If you are infected with HIV, you are also at higher risk of:
becoming infected with another STI
passing HIV to a sex partner
Diagnosis and Treatment
How is HIV diagnosed?
HIV is tested for by doing a blood test. Results can take about 1 to 2 weeks depending on where you live.
HIV will not show up in a blood test immediately after you have been infected. It can take between 15 and 30 days. It depends on the type of test you get.
If you think you have HIV but it does not show up in your blood test:
ask your health care provider if it might be too early for the test to detect HIV
depending on the test given, your health care provider may ask you to repeat the test to be sure
HIV testing sites across Canada offer different services and testing options. Some sites offer:
this means only you will know you took the test and the results
rapid HIV testing
this means you will get your test result almost immediately
Contact your local public health department or HIV testing site to find out what services are available in your area.
When you get tested for HIV: Ask to be tested for other infections, such as:
Then follow up to learn:
your test results
any treatment you might need
How is HIV treated?
There is no cure for HIV.
If you have HIV, you can be treated with antiretroviral drugs. These drugs help:
lower the level of HIV in your body
slow the spread of the virus in your body
help your immune system fight off other infections
give you a better chance of living a longer, healthier life
decrease your risk of passing the virus on to others
Starting treatment early can increase your chance of living a near-normal lifespan. Treatment is also available for many of the infections and diseases associated with having AIDS.
Prevention of HIV and AIDS
How can HIV and AIDS be prevented?
There is no vaccine to protect against HIV. You can develop AIDS only if you are infected with HIV.
If you think you may have been exposed to HIV, treatment can prevent you from becoming infected with HIV. You should:
see a health care provider immediately to find out if treatment is right for you
start treatment within 72 hours of a possible exposure if your health care provider recommends treatment
Sexual activity All sexual contact has some risk. You can reduce getting and/or spreading HIV by practicing safer sex. Safer sex, also known as safe sex, is more than just wearing the proper protection. It includes:
getting tested regularly for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) (having an STI increases your risk of getting and/or spreading HIV)
discussing STI prevention with your sex partner(s)
discussing with your partner(s) what sexual contact you will have
using condoms and other barriers safely(s)having fewer sex partners to reduce potential exposure to STIs
Drug injection If you inject drugs, you can reduce the risk of getting and spreading HIV by following safe injection practices. These include:
avoiding sharing drug injection paraphernalia, such as:
using new paraphernalia every time you inject
You can also consider getting help by signing up for a substance use treatment program like methadone therapy. Such a program can help you reduce your: