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HIV/AIDS

What is it?
HIV is a virus that attacks the human immune system. Infection with HIV usually leads to AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). HIV is carried in body fluids and is spread by having unprotected vaginal or anal sex with an infected person. It is also (rarely) transmitted during oral sex. There are very few reports of HIV being transmitted from one woman to another by sexual activity. Sharing needles can spread the virus. It can also pass from a pregnant woman to her unborn child although there are drugs that can be taken by pregnant women to protect their unborn child against HIV. Once a person is infected, they can infect others for life, unless they practice safer sex/safer needle use.

What are the symptoms?
When a person is first infected with HIV, they usually have no symptoms. Sometimes they have a mild 'flu' for a few days that may include fever, headache and swollen glands.

Symptoms of the disease often don't appear until years after a person has been infected. Some of these symptoms include:

  • swollen glands
  • lack of energy
  • weight loss
  • frequent fevers and sweats
  • persistent or frequent yeast infections (oral or vaginal)
  • persistent skin rashes or flaky skin
  • persistent diarrhea
  • persistent abnormal Pap tests

How is it diagnosed?
A person is diagnosed as HIV-positive using a blood test that looks for antibodies to the virus. Your body usually begins producing antibodies within 14 weeks from the time you were infected. A negative test before 14 weeks does not prove you are not infected. The test doesn't tell you how long you've been infected or give you information about the damage that HIV may have done to your immune system.

Because HIV is such a serious illness, it is usually recommended that you get counselling both before and after the test. This test should never be done without your consent. In some places in Ontario, you can be tested for HIV without your name being used. Even if you test positive, your name is not reported to the Medical Officer of Health. The AIDS Committee of Toronto provides a list of anonymous testing sites across Ontario and more information about the HIV antibody test. In Toronto the Bay Centre for Birth Control provides anonymous testing with results available in minutes.

A person is diagnosed with AIDS if they test positive for HIV and have at least one of a list of other diseases or infections commonly experienced by people with AIDS. If you test negative for HIV, your partner may still be positive so he/she must be tested also.

Are there any complications?
Because HIV damages the immune system, people with HIV are vulnerable to many different illnesses. Since the immune system cannot fight these infections, they may be fatal if untreated.

How is it treated?
New anti-viral drugs have been developed that are helping people with AIDS live longer. Although these drugs help control the virus they also have side effects that can interfere with a person's life and well being.

Talk to your doctor about when it is best to start these drugs and which ones to use. It is also important for HIV positive people to have any other infections treated promptly.

Should my partner be checked or treated?
Yes. If you can, you should notify your previous and current partners and suggest they be tested for HIV. Positive tests for HIV must be reported to Public Health unless you have had your test done at an anonymous testing site, so a Public Health nurse may contact you to ensure that you and your partners are receiving treatment for this infection.

How can I protect myself from HIV/AIDS?
The best protection from HIV/AIDS is to use a condom for vaginal or anal sex. If you use needles to inject drugs, never share them with another person and follow these tips for safer needle use.

If you have been sexually assaulted, you may wish to receive antiviral drugs aimed at preventing HIV infection. At the Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Care Centre at Women's College Hospital, people who have been sexually assaulted can receive 4 weeks of preventative antiviral treatment. Treatments must begin as soon as possible after the assault (within 72 hours). People in the Toronto area, who need information about this program, can call (416)-323-6040.

 

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Infections

Bacterial Vaginosis

Chlamydia

Crabs (Pubic Lice)

Gonorrhea

Hepatitis

Herpes

HIV/AIDS

Human Papilloma Virus

Molluscum contagiosum

Syphilis

Trichomonas

Yeast infection

  • A publication of:
  • Women's College Hospital