HIV (or Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is a virus that weakens your immune system which is your body’s built-in defence against disease and illness.
Any person can be infected with HIV no matter of age, sex, race or ethnic origin or whom a person has sex with. HIV can be present without a person being aware due to non symptoms being present. During this time, while an individual may not look or feel sick, they can still pass the virus onto other people.
Without treatment, a person’s immune system can become weak, leading to potential life-threatening infection and/or serious illnesses. If infections are contracted, a person will be diagnosed with AIDS (or Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome).
There is no vaccine or cure to prevent HIV. However, we know it is transmitted, how to prevent infection, how to maintain the immune system and how to avoid passing or getting HIV. With proper treatment, most people with HIV can avoid getting AIDS and live a long, healthy and vibrant life.
HIV can be transmitted through blood, semen (including pre-cum), rectal fluid, vaginal fluid and breast milk. HIV can only be passed from these fluids from a person with HIV when the virus gets into the bloodstream of another person - through unhealthy broken skin such as a cut, wound or needle puncture, the opening of the penis or wet linings of the body; such as the nostrils, vagina, rectum or foreskin. The risk increases when a sore or lesion is present on these linings; such as in the case of having an STI.
The main ways that HIV can be transmitted between persons are through vaginal or anal intercourse; especially without the usage of other prevention methods such as condoms, PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) or Tasp (Treatment as Prevention) or by sharing needles or other drug injection tools - this includes using unclean tattoo or piercing equipment, acupuncture needles. HIV can also be passed to a fetus or baby during pregnancy, birth or breastfeeding.
HIV CANNOT be transmitted to another individual by:
- talking, shaking hands, working or eating with someone who has HIV
- hugs or kisses
- coughs or sneezes
- swimming pools
- toilet seats or water fountains
- bed sheets or towels
- eating food prepared by someone living with HIV
- forks, spoons, cups or food
- insect or animal bites
Dial 811 Province –wide, toll-free 24/7 for free and confidential HIV and STI testing. HIV is a blood test and is always confidential and free. Public Health Agency of Canada guidelines state a waiting period of 15 – 20 days – and with no potential re-exposure – to get an accurate HIV test result. It takes up to ten days to produce blood work results. HIV is a reportable disease in Canada. If a person tests positive for HIV, the result is reported to local public health authorities. Following an HIV test, a person can be linked to other services, including support, care, and prevention.
HIV and Condoms
Condoms remain one of the most effective ways to prevent the sexual transmission of HIV and other STIs. When used consistently and correctly they can reduce the risk of HIV transmission by 90% or more. HIV Edmonton provides free condoms and lube for community groups and people who have trouble accessing them. View More Information
Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP)
Post-exposure prophylaxis, or PEP, is a 28 day regimen of HIV medication for a person who may have recently been exposed to HIV to prevent HIV infection. It should be started as soon as possible and no later than 72 hours after a potential HIV exposure. PEP is not 100% successful, can be rather costly, and many persons who use it experience unwanted side effects. Contact your doctor or visit a hospital emergency room if you think you have been exposed to HIV. View More Information
Oral Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP)
Oral Pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEP, involves the daily use of Truvada, an HIV medication, to prevent HIV infection. Using properly and consistently, PrEP reduces the sexual transmission of HIV by 90% or more. Truvada is generally safe and well-tolerated, and is available by prescription from physicians in Canada. Use of oral PrEP involves regular medical appointments for monitoring and support. View More Information
Treatment as prevention (TasP)
Treatment as prevention, or TasP, is a way for an HIV positive person to reduce their risk of onward (vertical) transmission to HIV negative person. Antiretroviral treatment can significantly improve the long term health of a person living with HIV. It can also reduce their risk of onward HIV transmission. With this, efforts to increase the number of HIV positive people who are on treatment may, as a secondary advantage to improving health, help curb the number of new HIV infections. The idea that treatment may be able to prevent HIV transmission at the population level and have an impact on the HIV epidemic is commonly referred to as "treatment as prevention”. This has led to the concept of a "test and treat" or "seek, test and treat" strategy which is a public health approach with the goal of maximizing the prevention benefits of treatment by increasing treatment coverage and decreasing community viral load. View More Information
HIV Support / Living with HIV
Receiving a diagnosis of HIV can be a life-changing event. People can feel many emotions—sadness, hopelessness, and even anger. Please contact our member organizations closest to your community within Alberta or your health care provider to work through your diagnosis and manage your HIV. Talking to others who have HIV may also be helpful. The Positive Voices Caucus offers information about how other people living with HIV have handled their diagnosis.