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1. What is HIV/AIDS?

Human Immunodeficiency Virus, or HIV, is the virus that causes AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). This virus attacks the body's immune system and makes it difficult to fight off diseases, bacteria, virus and infections.

2. How do I know I have it?

Many people who have HIV don't even know it because they don't show any symptoms for years. Even though you don't show any symptoms, you can still pass on the virus to someone else. The only way to know for sure if you have HIV is get an HIV test.

3. How do I get HIV/AIDS?

HIV is present in blood, semen, vaginal fluids, pre-ejaculate, anal secretions 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. mouth, vagina, and anus) of another person to pass on the infection.
You can get HIV through high-risk activities where you come into contact with infected blood, semen and vaginal fluids. HIV is spread:

  • By having unprotected sex (vaginal, anal or oral) with someone who has HIV.
  • By sharing sex toys with someone who has HIV.
  • By sharing needles or other equipment (water, cooker, filter, etc.) to inject drugs with someone who has HIV.
  • By using tattooing and body piercing equipment, including the ink, that isn't sterilized or properly cleaned and is infected with HIV.
  • From a woman with HIV to her baby, before or during birth, and by breastfeeding.
  • More easily if you already have another sexually transmitted infection (STI) like Chlamydia or Gonorrhea.

Remember - HIV can enter the body through the mucous membranes via white blood cells (WBC). Mucous membranes, the protective tissue and mucous layers, are found in the vagina, urethra, rectum and mouth and help protect the body from infection. HIV works like a "key" that fits into the "lock" receptors of WBCs. HIV attaches to WBCs, which in turn, carry HIV into the bloodstream. WBCs are naturally present on the mucous membranes, but they increase in numbers when an infection (e.g. Chlamydia) or local irritation (e.g. spermicide) is present. Therefore, if someone has an untreated Chlamydia infection at the time of an HIV exposure through unprotected sexual contact, the risk of becoming infected with HIV increases.

HIV CANNOT be spread by:

  • Touching
  • Shaking hands
  • Hugging or kissing
  • Coughing and sneezing
  • Donating blood
  • Using swimming pools or sitting on public toilet seats
  • Sharing bed linen
  • Sharing utensils or food
  • Animals, mosquitoes or other insects

4. How to protect yourself from getting HIV/AIDS

To reduce your chances of getting HIV, you should:

  • Consistently use condoms for sexual activity:
    • use lubricated condoms for vaginal sex
    • use non-lubricated condoms for oral sex on a man
    • use condoms with extra lubricant for anal sex
  • Use a latex barrier (called a dental dam) or a non-lubricated condom cut lengthwise that is placed over the vulva or anus during oral sex (mouth on vulva; mouth on anus - also called rimming)
  • Limiting the number of sex partners
  • Not sharing needles, syringes, drug equipment or sex toys
  • Ensuring that tattooing and piercing equipment is sterile.

You can get FREE condoms and dental dams at all Peel Public Health Healthy Sexuality Clinics.

Now that you know more about HIV/AIDS, test your knowledge by taking the AIDS Awareness Quiz.


Revised: Tuesday December 03 2013

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