HIV Basics

What is HIV?

HIV” stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus.

 It is a virus that can make you sick by attacking and weakening your body’s immune system.  The immune system is the parts of your body that protect you by fighting against disease and illness. HIV causes a serious disease by destroying the body’s natural protection against infection.

The letters in HIV stand for :

  • H –  Human : This virus can only live in people. It is easily killed outside the human body.
  • I –  Immunodeficiency : The virus makes your immune system weaker by destroying the body’s important cells that fight disease and infection.
  • VVirus:  A virus is a very small germ. A virus enters a living cell inside the body and uses that cell to make more copies of itself.

 What is AIDS?

“AIDS” stands for Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome.

When someone is infected with HIV and their body can no longer fight infection, the disease is known as AIDS. It is the most advanced stage of HIV infection.

  • A –  Acquired : AIDS is not something you inherit from your parents. You acquire AIDS after birth.
  • I – Immuno:  Your body's immune system includes all the organs and cells that work to fight off infection or disease.
  • D – Deficiency : You get AIDS when your immune system is "deficient," or isn't working the way it should.
  • S – Syndrome:  A syndrome is a collection of symptoms and signs of disease.

When were HIV and AIDS discovered?

HIV was first detected in Canada more than 30 years ago. The first case of AIDS in Canada  was reported in 1982. A year earlier in 1981, the first cases of AIDS were reported in the United States.

HIV, the virus that causes AIDS  was first isolated in 1983.

It is not clearly known where AIDS came from. It is thought that it occurred as early as the 1950s although it only started becoming widespread in the 1980s.

How do you get HIV?

In order to be infected, the virus must enter a person's bloodstream.

There are five body fluids that can contain adequate amount of HIV to cause infection.

  • Blood
  • Semen and seminal fluid (including pre-cum)
  • Breast milk
  • Vaginal fluids
  • Rectal or anal fluid

HIV can be passed from one person to another through:

  • Unprotected sexual intercourse . That means:
    • vaginal or anal sex without a condom
    • oral sex without a condom or dental dam
    • sharing sex toys
  • Shared needles or equipment for injecting drugs
  • Sharing acupuncture needles
  • Unsterilized needles for tattooing, scarification, skin piercing or acupuncture
  • Transfer of the virus to the unborn baby while inside the womb of the mother and during labour when there can be exchange of blood between the mother and baby.
  • Breast feeding (from an HIV-infected mother to her infant)
  • Occupational exposure in health care settings (such as needlestick injury)
  • Blood transfusion or organ transplant. This is not very likely to happen in Canada because of the strict testing of the blood and organs for transfusion or transplant.

 The following body fluids DO NOT contain HIV:

Saliva, sweat, tears, urine, vomit, nasal fluid or stools

HIV cannot be passed from person to person by:

  • Talking, shaking hands, working or eating with someone who has HIV
  • Hugs or kisses
  • Coughs or sneezes
  • Swimming pools
  • Toilet seats
  • Water fountains
  • Bed sheets or towels
  • Sharing drinking glass, spoons or forks
  • Insects or animals

Who can get HIV?

Anyone can be infected with HIV, regardless of their age, gender,  race, ethnic origin, where they live or who their sexual partner is.