What Is HIV and AIDS?

HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. It is a virus that infects the human immune system and by attacking our cells. The virus seeks to damage your CD4 cells (white blood cells), making you more susceptible to infection. Over time, it makes you less resistant to fighting off other viruses. AIDS stands for Acquired Immuno Deficiency Syndrome and is brought-on once HIV has compromised the immune system, making an individual susceptible to opportunistic infections.

When a person has HIV, do they also have AIDS?

No, they do not. Someone who is HIV-positive is only diagnosed with AIDS after their immune system has been drastically compromised and their CD4 blood cell count has fallen below a certain level.

Where is HIV from?

While we do not know for sure, there is a strong belief that the virus was transmitted from a form of chimpanzee of West African descent.

Do people with HIV die?

HIV is typically a chronic, manageable condition. While HIV-positive individuals are at a greater risk of developing infections and experiencing side effects from medication, alterations in lifestyle and attention to maintaining their drug regimen can cause for a productive, long lifespan. HIV no longer necessarily evolves into AIDS. That being said, life threatening complications can still occur when living with HIV.

Why is there no cure for HIV?

Researchers have been working hard for the past 30 years to find a vaccine and/or cure for HIV. It takes a lot of time and effort to understand the workings of a virus and learn how to effectively combat it. Currently, there is a strong focus in HIV research on learning more about the cells that present a significant challenge to finding a cure for the virus.

How is HIV transmitted?

HIV is transmitted through blood and sexual fluids. Fluids for males: rectal fluids, pre-ejaculate and ejaculate carry a high-dose of the virus. Fluids for females: vaginal fluids and breast milk carry the virus. Saliva does not carry enough HIV to cause for infection, so kissing someone who is HIV-positive is not a risky activity.

How do I know if I have HIV?

There are no specific signs or symptoms of being HIV-positive; someone can be positive for years and not be aware that they are positive for the virus. Typically, someone who has been exposed to the virus will experience a process of seroconversion—when HIV antibodies become present in the body. The transition from negative to HIV antibodies to positive can be accompanied by severe flu-like symptoms, which can last upwards of two weeks. In Canada this process of seroconversion happens within 3 months of exposure to HIV, and so individuals who think they may have been exposed to HIV are encouraged to wait 3 months (typically called a “window period”) following any high-risk activity to be tested in order to avoid testing more than once within those 3 months. Annual HIV testing is recommended for individuals who are sexually active with multiple or casual partners. It is better to know your status than to assume you are negative.

What does it mean if someone says they are undectable?

Being undetectable refers to the amount of HIV in a person’s system; it means that the amount of copied HIV cells in the body is low. When someone’s viral load is high and their CD4 blood cell count is below a certain number, this is when treatment for HIV is highly recommended. A low or undetectable viral load does not guarantee that someone with HIV cannot transmit the virus (thus, condom use is always the safest bet).