What is it?

The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a virus that causes the acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). HIV damages your immune system, making it harder for you to fight other illnesses.

How do I get it?

HIV spreads when infected blood, semen, or vaginal fluid gets into your blood. It can enter your blood through a break in your skin or mucosa (thin, wet skin inside your mouth, vagina or rectum) – which you might not even know you have. It’s mainly spread through sexual contact, or when injection drug needles or tattoo equipment are shared. There also may be a risk of transmitting HIV by sharing crack pipes and ‘sniffing’ gear. HIV can also be transmitted from mother to child during pregnancy, during delivery, and after delivery via breastfeeding.

What should I be looking for?

Many people have no idea they even have been infected with HIV. They may not look or feel sick, and they may not show any symptoms for 7 to 10 years after they’re infected. They might feel like they have the cold or flu soon after they’ve been infected, but they likely won’t know they have HIV.

How do I get tested?

HIV is diagnosed through a blood test at your health care provider’s office or a clinic.

Can I get rid of it?

There is no cure for HIV. People with HIV often take a complicated combination of prescription drugs that slow down the virus in their body. This helps them stay healthier longer. These drugs have side effects.

‘Morning-after’ / Post-exposure prophylaxis

Just like we have the Morning-after Pill to help prevent pregnancy, there’s also something like a ‘morning-after’ treatment if you might have been exposed to HIV very recently. It’s called ‘Post-Exposure Prophylaxis,’ or PEP. It consists of taking anti-HIV drugs very soon after a possible exposure, to prevent an HIV infection from establishing. PEP isn’t available to everyone, and it should be started within just a couple hours after exposure (and no more than 72 hours after exposure). If you’ve had contact with someone who you suspect might be HIV positive (through unprotected anal or vaginal sex, needlestick injuries, or sharing needles), go to your local emergency room – HSC is recommended if you are in Winnipeg – or call Health Links at (204) 788-8200 or toll-free 1-888-315-9257.