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Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a virus that spreads through the body and damages the immune system, making it difficult to fight off illnesses. Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) can occur approximately 5-10 years after HIV infection. At this stage, the immune system becomes damaged and persons with AIDS contract infections or cancers that are uncommon in healthy people.

Symptoms: People may not have any symptoms when first infected with HIV. Early symptoms may include fever, night sweats and swollen glands in the neck, armpits and groin. Later signs of HIV infection include decreased appetite, fatigue, weight loss, diarrhea, fever and swollen glands.

HIV can be found in the semen, vaginal fluid, blood (including menstrual blood), and breast milk of an HIV positive person.

HIV can enter the body through a tiny cut or opening.

HIV can be transmitted from person to person in these ways:

  • Vaginal, anal and/or oral sex without a condom or oral dam
  • Sharing needles and injection equipment
  • Using blood products from countries that do not screen for HIV
  • From an HIV infected woman to her baby during pregnancy and birth, or when breastfeeding

You can’t tell if someone has an STI by looking at them; the only way to know is to be tested.

The only way to know if you have HIV is to get a blood test. See your healthcare provider to obtain a sexual health screen and HIV test.

Treatment: There is no cure for HIV/AIDS, but there are combination drug therapies to help manage HIV and increase the time a person can remain well. For more information about these medications, see your healthcare provider.

Prevention: To reduce your risk of getting STIs, including HIV, follow these practices:

  • Use a condom and/or oral dam properly and consistently each time you are sexually active. 
  • See your healthcare provider or go to a sexual health clinic to be tested for STIs if you are sexually active or starting a sexual relationship with a new partner. 
  • You and your partner should be tested for STIs before becoming sexually active and then again in three to six months.

For more information on HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), see the Canadian Federation for Sexual Health website.


For more information on HIV and pregnancy, see the Canadian Federation for Sexual Health website.

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Updated Mar 14, 2017