What is HIV?
HIV is a virus called human immunodeficiency virus (retrovirus) that is found within the bodily fluids of those infected (blood, vaginal fluids, semen, breast milk, pre-ejaculate, anal fluids) and it is often transmitting through blood/blood products, IV drug abuse, unprotected sexual activity, maternal-child transmission during birth or breast-feeding, also, having an STI also makes HIV transmission more successful.
What does HIV do to the body?
HIV affects the immune system and weakens it over a long period of time. The virus attacks CD4 cells; CD4 cells are white blood cells that are part of the immune system which fights infections. So when CD4 cells are destroyed, the immune system of the person affected is weak and can get serious infections which would not normally be an issue. HIV will decrease a person’s CD4 count progressively which leads to a diminished immune response. The progression of HIV takes years and can go undetected.
What is AIDS?
As HIV progresses it causes more and more damage to the immune system and the CD4 cells, which causes it to be less and less able to fight off infections. A person is said to have AIDS when their CD4 count drops below 200 (a healthy persons CD4 count is between 600 and 1200) or they develop a specific group of opportunistic infections. A person can live with HIV for many years without developing AIDS.
What is an opportunistic infection?
Opportunistic Infections are infections that can occur when our immune system isn’t working properly. When we are health our immune system can control the bacteria, viruses, fungi and protozoa. But opportunistic infections take advantage of weakened immune systems and take over.
What are the symptoms of HIV?
Often HIV can go undetected for many years, and persons affected may not have any signs or symptoms indicating they are infected. Symptoms vary from person to person. Early symptoms of HIV are flu like symptoms, such as:
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Nausea and vomiting
- Sore throat
- Muscle pain
How do I test for HIV?
See HIV Testing (below)
Blood is tested for HIV antibodies (antibodies are produced when your body has a reaction to an infection, like HIV). Since the test is looking for the antibodies with in the blood and not the actual virus, you need to wait until the HIV antibodies are made by your body. If someone is infected with HIV but there are no antibodies made yet, they will receive a non-reactive test result even though they have HIV. The time between being infected with HIV and the occurrence of antibodies in the blood is about three to four weeks (with no present symptoms). The blood sample is sent to the lab and results will be returned within three weeks. This test is referred to as the ELISA test (enzyme linked immune sorbent assay). There is also rapid testing which is a new test that takes 20 minutes, requires a finger prick that will produce a drop of blood and the results are 99.9% accurate.
What are the risk factors associated with HIV infections?
Unprotected sex (HIV is spread through bodily fluids, the risk increases when number of partners increases), IV drug use/tattoo’s/piercings (sharing needles and syringes exposes those to bodily fluids), and STI’s (open sores are often a result of STI’s which increases the risk of contracting HIV)
What are the levels of risk?
- No Risk: kissing, skin to skin contact, fingering (unless an STI is present or there is cuts on the hand), sharing joints, pipes, drinks etc. (unless open wounds on the mouth are present)
- Negligible Risk: Oral-anal contact, sharing sex-toys with condoms, fisting
- Low Risk: oral sex, vaginal/anal sex with condom
- High Risk: vaginal/anal sex without condom, sharing needles for piercings, tattoo’s, or drug use, sharing sex toys without a condom
How do I minimize my risk?
- Discuss safe sex prior to having sex with each partner!
Use a condom correctly whenever you have anal or vaginal sex
Use a condom or dental dam correctly every time you have oral sex
Use only water based lubricants with condoms, oil based lubricants like Vaseline can weaken a condom and cause it to break
Don’t share sex toys without properly cleaning them
- Never share needles/ injection equipment and always use all new equipment for each injection. If you are getting a tattoo, body piercings, electrolysis or acupuncture, ensure these activities are only carried out by professionals who follow universal infection control precautions. The law requires that all needles used in these procedures are used only once and are disposed of after use.
Rapid Point of Care Testing: This test involves pricking the finger and taking a drop of blood. This drop of blood will be mixed with chemicals and results are ready in 60 seconds. If only one dot appears, the test is negative. If two dots appear, the test is positive. The whole process takes 20-30 minutes for a negative test and up to an hour for a positive test because counselling is provided before and after the test. Note: this is an anonymous test, however clients may be asked for their health cards. If they are asked, they simply need to remind the receptionist that they are there for an anonymous test. The client will be given a number to use as an ID.
This form of testing is available at Durham Region Sexual Health Clinics located:
Suite 180, Upper Level, Office Galleria
Pickering Town Centre
Unit 38, Lower Level (near food court)
181 Perry St., Suite 200