What is HIV?
HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is the virus that causes AIDS. This virus attacks the body's immune system, lowering its ability to fight disease.
By lowering the immune system, HIV/AIDS allows other infections and diseases to invade the body. Once infected, people are infected for life and can spread HIV to others.
HIV/AIDS is a reportable disease and must be reported to the Health Unit.
How can a person become infected by the virus?
HIV is present in blood, semen, vaginal fluids and breast milk. Through one of these body fluids, the virus must enter a break in the skin or be absorbed through mucous membranes (e.g. eyes, mouth) of another person to pass on the infection. HIV cannot be passed through casual contact such as hugging or kissing.
HIV is spread by:
- sharing drug equipment, needles and/or syringes
- anal sex (penis in rectum)
- vaginal sex (penis in vagina)
- oral sex:
- if semen enters the mouth
- if menstrual blood/vaginal fluids contact the mouth
- sores present on the mouth or genitals may increase the risk of transmission
- sharing sex toys
- an infected mother to her unborn or breastfed baby
- unsterile equipment for tattooing, electrolysis, ear/body piercing, acupuncture
- receiving donated organs and semen before July 1987 when screening began in Canada
- receiving blood or blood products before November 1985 when screening began in Canada
HIV cannot be spread by:
- casual, every day contact
- shaking hands
- hugging, kissing
- coughing, sneezing
- giving blood
- using swimming pools, toilet seats
- sharing bed linen, eating utensils or food
- mosquitos or other insects, animals
- sharing the same drinking fountain
It is important to avoid exposure to another sexually transmitted infection (STI). Having an STI can weaken your body's natural protection and increase your chances of becoming infected with HIV if you are exposed to the virus.
What are the symptoms?
Most people feel well when they first become infected with HIV. Some people, however, develop fever, headache, tiredness and enlarged lymph nodes. These symptoms usually disappear within a week to a month. Persistent and severe symptoms may not occur for years. They can include weight loss, skin lesions or sores, recurrent pneumonia, forms of cancer and damage to the nervous system. These illnesses signal the onset of AIDS. With early diagnosis and treatment, many people with HIV infection can stay healthy for many years.
A blood test is done to find antibodies to HIV.
All HIV testing is confidential. It can also be done anonymously at Ottawa Health department clinics. Only clinic staff has access to these files. Your date of birth and identification number is used on the lab slip. Blood is sent to the Ministry of Health lab for testing.
How is HIV/AIDS treated?
HIV/AIDS is treated with medications to delay the spread of the virus in the body and to manage potential and existing infections and cancers associated with the disease. To date there is no long term cure available.
The results of the test will be given in person only and not over the phone.
A negative test means you do not have the antibodies now. If it has been less than 3 months you should consider retesting. If it has been 3 months after your last exposure and your test is negative, you do not have HIV. If you engage in high risk activities, you may become infected with the virus at any time. It is important to talk to your partner(s) to determine their HIV test status and if it was outside the 3 month window period.
A positive test means that you have antibodies for HIV. You do not have AIDS. No one knows when someone infected with the virus will develop AIDS. An early diagnosis allows you to get medical advice and early treatment. People who are HIV positive can pass the virus to others. Your sexual partners must be told of your infection so that they can be tested. You may want to share this information with anyone else who is exposed to your body fluids, such as doctors and dentists.
- Regardless of test results, precautions should be taken to reduce the risk of getting HIV.
- There is no vaccine to prevent HIV.
- using lubricated condoms for vaginal sex
- using non-lubricated condoms for oral sex on a man
- using a latex barrier (called a dam) or a condom cut length-wise for oral sex on a woman
- using condoms with extra lubricant for anal sex
- limiting the number of sex partners
- not sharing needles, syringes, drug equipment or sex toys
- If you are considering skin piercing or tattooing, make sure you go to a technician who uses new sterile equipment for each customer.