FAQs

What is HIV?

HIV is the virus that can lead to AIDS. HIV weakens the body’s ability to fight disease and infections, making it easier for people to become sick. One person with HIV can pass HIV to another person through activities such as direct contact between blood and an open wound or unprotected sex with someone who has HIV. HIV stands for Human Immuno-deficiency Virus.

What is AIDS?

AIDS is a condition that results from HIV infection. When people with HIV develop AIDS, everyday infections, like pneumonia, may become life threatening. AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.

What does HIV stand for?

HIV stands for Human Immuno-deficiency Virus.

Human: Anyone who engages in risk activities can get HIV, not just IV drug users, homosexuals or sex-trade workers. HIV only infects humans.

Immuno-deficiency: HIV weakens the immune system, making it hard for our bodies to fight infection.

Virus: HIV is a virus. HIV reproduces by taking over and destroying human cells that are vital to the immune system.

What does AIDS stand for?

AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.

Acquired: Acquired means to “get” something. AIDS is not an illness that is inherited genetically or that occurs spontaneously.

Immune: HIV affects the body’s immune system, the part of the body which usually works to fight of germs such as bacteria and viruses.

Deficiency: Immune system no longer works properly.

Syndrome: A syndrome is a collection of illnesses or symptoms that describe a particular condition

How do you get HIV?

HIV lives in body liquids. HIV can be passed from an HIV-positive person to someone else through body liquids like:

  • blood
  • sperm/semen
  • vaginal fluid
  • breast milk

Who can get HIV?

HIV does not discriminate; anyone who has engaged in a risk activity can be infected with HIV regardless of age, gender, economic background, sexual orientation, race, religion, ethnic origin, etc. (Source: AIDS Vancouver).

How does HIV attack the immune system?

HIV attaches itself to a T cell and enters it. Once inside the T cell, HIV is able to multiply, which eventually leads to the destruction of the T cell. As more and more T cells become infected by HIV and destroyed, the immune system is weakened and becomes less able to fight off germs and bacteria. (Source: AIDS Vancouver)

What Are the Symptoms of HIV Infection?

Some people with HIV develop symptoms which can be like those of many other conditions:

  • Chronic yeast infections in the vagina, in the ears, on the tongue
  • Frequently tired
  • Diarrhea
  • Dramatic weight loss
  • Swollen lymph glands on the neck and in the armpits
  • Sweating a lot while you sleep
  • Fever that won’t go away

Such symptoms are often caused by common illnesses and not by HIV infection. If you have concerns about these symptoms, you should check with a doctor or health care practitioner. (Source: AIDS Vancouver)

How does the HIV Disease Progress?

Window Period

The window period is the time between when you are exposed to HIV and when a blood test will be able to measure the antibodies your immune system creates to fight HIV. It can take anywhere from four weeks to three months after HIV enters your body to develop enough antibodies to be measured on an HIV test. Most people will develop enough antibodies to test accurately for HIV from four to six weeks. There may be some short term symptoms of infection, but without an HIV test you won’t know for sure if you have the virus.

Asymptomatic Period

The asymptomatic period is the time when HIV is in your body but your immune system is strong so there may be no symptoms of infection. The virus may be active and harming your immune system but you can feel as healthy as ever.

Symptomatic Period

The symptomatic period is when HIV becomes more active in your body. The virus has weakened your immune system after living in your body for a while. Symptoms of HIV infection may begin to appear, or re-appear.

AIDS Diagnosis

A person is diagnosed with AIDS when he/she has HIV plus one or more of the illnesses specific to the syndrome. At this stage a person has generally been living with HIV for many years and the immune system is severely damaged.

In most cases one of the “opportunistic infections” will eventually cause the death of the person living with AIDS.

While AIDS can still be a fatal illness, some drugs are now being used that can reduce HIV’s damage to the immune system, delay symptoms, prevent opportunistic infections, and prolong life. (Source: AIDS Vancouver)

How many Canadians are infected with HIV?

At the end of 2005, an estimated 58,000 people were living with HIV (including AIDS). It is also estimated that 27% of HIV positive Canadians are unaware of their infection (Source: Public Health Agency of Canada).

Estimates of HIV prevalence and incidence are produced by PHAC every three years. The next HIV estimates for 2008 will be published in 2009. (Source: AIDS Vancouver)

What do we know about Aboriginal youth and HIV risk?

Almost 1 out of every 4 youth who tests HIV positive in Canada is Aboriginal. Data from the Centre for Infectious Disease Prevention and Control tells us that 26.5% of new HIV infections are among Aboriginal youth compared to 19% in non-Aboriginal HIV infections. This means that Aboriginal youth are being infected more than non-Aboriginal youth (Source: CAAN).

How many people around the world are living with HIV/AIDS?

As of December of 2007, it was estimated that 33.2 million people are living with HIV/AIDS. (UNAIDS) (Source: AIDS Vancouver)

How do I minimize my risk?

The HIV/AIDS virus can be transmitted from body to body through blood, semen, pre-ejaculate, vaginal secretions and breast milk. There are several steps you can take to reduce your risk of HIV infection:

  • Use latex condoms to make sexual activity safer.
  • Postpone or abstain from sexual activity and reduce your number of partners.
  • Discuss HIV with your partner and have sex only with a partner who agrees to use a latex condom.
  • Never share needles or injection equipment.
  • If you are getting a tattoo, body piercing or acupuncture, ensure that all equipment is sterile.
  • If you are pregnant and concerned about HIV, talk with your doctor about being tested. Early treatment with medication can prevent the transmission of HIV from mother to baby before birth.
  • If you have engaged in risky behavior, get tested>

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