What are HIV and AIDS?

HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is a virus that weakens a person’s immune system, the body’s defense against disease and illness. HIV can infect anyone, regardless of nationality, gender, age, race etc.

Without HIV treatment, a person’s immune system can become too weak to fight off serious illnesses and they will eventually become sick with life-threatening infections. This is the most serious stage of HIV infection, called AIDS (Aquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome).

With treatment it is possible to live a full and healthy life with HIV and never develop AIDS.


HIV is passed from one person to another person through infected body fluids. There are only 5 body fluids that contain enough HIV to pass it to another person. They are:

  • Blood
  • Semen/pre-cum
  • Vaginal fluid
  • Anal fluid
  • Breast milk

HIV will only live for a few minutes in a body fluid outside the body.

HIV can live longer (hours,perhaps weeks) inside the barrel of a needle.

Bleach will kill HIV. Wear rubber or latex gloves and fill a bucket with 1 part bleach and 9 parts water to clean up body fluids such as blood as an extra precaution.

HIV is NOT passed through the following body fluids, unless they also contain a visible body fluid from the above list:

  • Saliva
  • Tears
  • Sweat
  • Urine
  • Feces
  • Mucus

Risk factors

No Risk for HIV Transmission:

  • Kissing (HIV is not found in saliva in large enough amounts to transmit to another person)
  • Shaking hands/holding hands/hugging
  • Sharing blankets, utensils, food, drinks, cigarettes, lip gloss, etc
  • Coughing, sneezing
  • Mosquitoes or other insects/animals (the virus only lives in humans)
  • Toilet seats, showers, sinks
  • Swimming pools (Chlorine kills HIV)
  • Tattooing, piercing, electrolysis or acupuncture with sterilized and new equipment
  • Giving blood, or receiving blood in Canada since 1985 (The Canadian blood supply is closely monitored and tested – it is safe to receive blood in Canada)
  • Injecting with new, unshared needles
  • Unshared sex toys
  • Fantasizing/masturbating
  • Abstinence

Low Risk for HIV Transmission:

  • Giving or receiving oral sex (mouth on penis, vagina or anus)
  • Sharing toothbrushes, razors, manicure or pedicure equipment if they have blood containing live HIV virus on them

Highest Risk for HIV Transmission:

  • Sharing drug equipment that has HIV infected blood on it – needles, or spoons, water for mixing the drug, filters, drug pipes, straws or bills(money) used for snorting drugs
  • Vaginal or anal sex without a condom, with someone who has HIV
  • Sharing tattooing or piercing equipment with someone who has HIV

Signs and symptoms

  • Many people have no early symptoms
  • Those who do have early symptoms (within weeks of being infected with HIV) may experience fever, headache, tiredness, swollen lymph nodes in the neck, nausea or diarrhea
  • Early symptoms usually disappear within a week or two
  • Later symptoms of HIV infection (2-10 years after infection) may include such things as significant weight loss without dieting (eg. losing 20kg without trying), unexplained night sweats, or recurring infections that take a long time to go away
  • Opportunistic infections (like TB or pneumonia) are able to take hold in the body due to the weakened immune system that is not strong enough to fight off infections.

The symptoms listed above are not positive proof of HIV infection. These symptoms also happen with other health problems besides HIV. Getting a blood test for HIV is the only way to really find out if you have HIV.


There are steps everyone can take to prevent the spread of HIV:

  • Use male and female condoms – Evidence shows that male latex condoms have an 85% or greater protective effect against HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (but do not protect against some STIs, like herpes or genital warts).
  • Testing for HIV and other STIs is strongly advised for all people exposed to any of the risk factors so that they can learn of their own infection status and access necessary prevention and treatment services without delay.In 2014, UNAIDS launched ambitious new targets for the scale up of antiretroviral treatment, known as 90-90-90. Their aim is that by 2020:

infographic90x90x90Get more info on 90-90-90  here

Harm reduction for injecting drug users

People who inject drugs can take precautions against becoming infected with HIV by using sterile injecting equipment, including needles and syringes, for each injection. A comprehensive package of interventions for HIV prevention and treatment includes:

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