HIV, also called Human Immunodeficiency Virus, is a virus that attacks the immune system by destroying white blood cells that protect the body from infections.
AIDS, also called Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, occurs when the immune system is so weakened by HIV that you can get a life threatening illness such as pneumocystis pneumonia.
How do you get HIV?
You can get HIV by:
- Having unprotected vaginal or anal sex with a person who has HIV
- Sharing needles or equipment for drugs
Having unprotected oral sex is a lower risk activity for HIV transmission. Babies can get HIV from mothers through birth or breastfeeding.
The body fluids that contain HIV are:
- Vaginal and rectal fluids
- Breast milk
HIV is not spread by hugging, kissing, sharing utensils with or living with a person with HIV.
How do I know if I have HIV?
The only way to know if you have HIV is to get tested. Symptoms may last a few weeks or you may not have symptoms for HIV.
Symptoms of HIV
About two to four weeks after getting HIV, a person may have a flu-like illness or symptoms such as:
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Loss of appetite
- Skin rash
As the immune system weakens over a period of years, a person may have:
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Night sweats
- Weight loss
- Persistent yeast infections
Testing for HIV
Get tested for HIV if you:
- Have sex without using condoms
- Share needles or equipment to take drugs
- Have or have had a sexually transmitted infection
- Are pregnant
You need to wait 12 weeks or three months from your last possible exposure to HIV for an accurate test. This is called the window period. If you have HIV, your blood will show antibodies to HIV by the end of the 12-week window period.
You can choose to use your name (nominal) for an HIV test or you can get a code number and have anonymous testing.
You can have nominal or anonymous HIV testing by either an HIV blood test or a Rapid HIV test. A public health nurse will help you decide which option is best for you.
HIV blood test
- involves taking a sample of your blood and sending it to the lab
- test results are ready in two weeks
Rapid HIV testing
- also known as Point of Care
- available for clients that meet certain eligibility criteria
- involves taking a finger prick blood sample
- test results are ready in a few minutes
You can get tested for HIV using your name (nominal) at your doctor's office or walk-in clinics. Sexual Health Clinics provide anonymous testing, testing using your name and rapid HIV testing.
Treatment for HIV
There is no cure for HIV or AIDS, but there are treatments that help control the virus.
- Many people with HIV continue to lead healthy lives for many years, if HIV is found and treated early.
- Prevention is better than treating the virus.
- Talk to an HIV specialist about when to start treatment and what treatment to take; get a referral to an HIV specialist from your doctor.
Where to get help for HIV & AIDS
Who has to know if you have HIV?
If you have HIV, you are required to tell:
- Your past and current sexual or needle sharing partners, so that they can be tested.
- Any future sexual or needle sharing partners. You need to practice safer sex, including using condoms for oral, vaginal or anal sex, if you have HIV.
How to prevent HIV
Here are some tips to prevent HIV:
- Use a condom every time from start to finish for oral, vaginal and anal sex. Keep a condom with you and learn how to use it correctly.
- Do not have sex.
- Talk to your sexual partner about their sexual and drug use history and ask your partner to be tested.
- Get tested for sexually transmitted infections. Your chance of getting HIV goes up if you already have a sexually transmitted infection.
- If you are diagnosed with HIV and are infected with another sexually transmitted infection, you are at a greater risk of passing HIV on to your partner.
- If you inject drugs, use a needle syringe program to get free, sterile needles such as the Van Needle Syringe program.
- Pre Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) - is the daily use of oral HIV medications by an HIV-negative person who is at high risk of HIV infection. There is a cost. PrEP can help prevent people getting infected with HIV. Consistent condom use and regular STI testing should be used alongside PrEP. For more information and where to access it in Hamilton, go to Hamilton PrEP Clinic.
- Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) - Postexposure prophylaxis (PEP) involves 28 days of oral HIV medications starting as soon as possible within 72 hours after an HIV exposure. PEP may be given after an accidental exposure that occurs at work (e.g., health care) or may be given after sexual and injection drug use exposures. To access PEP in the Hamilton area, go to your nearest hospital emergency room. There is a cost.
For more information:
- Phone the Sexual Health Information Line: 905-528-5894
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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