Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) attacks the immune system, the body's natural defense system. Without a strong immune system, the body has trouble fighting off disease. Without HIV treatment, this results in a chronic illness that gets worse over time. When the body can no longer fight the infection, it becomes a disease known as Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS). Around 25% of people with HIV infection are unaware of their condition. They may continue to spread the infection without knowing it.

Symptoms

Within a few weeks of initial infection, many people may have fever, rash, joint or muscle pains, enlarged lymph nodes, sore throat, fatigue, headache, oral and/or genital ulcers, weight loss, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. These symptoms last for a week or two then go away until years later.

Other people have no initial symptoms at all. They may appear and feel healthy for several years. But even if they feel healthy, HIV is still affecting their bodies. Without treatment, HIV progresses to AIDS, which results from severe damage to the immune system. AIDS often begins as weight loss, chronic diarrhea, fever and fatigue. The symptoms then progress to those of severe infections or cancers and eventually death.

The only way to know for sure if you have HIV is to get tested for it.

Transmission

HIV can be transmitted through blood, semen, vaginal fluid or breast milk. It can be passed from mother to baby during pregnancy or childbirth or while breast feeding. People who are having condomless anal or vaginal sex can be infected. The risk of infection increases with the number of sexual partners. HIV can also be acquired through sharing needles/syringes or other injection drug use equipment.

Treatment

There is currently no cure for HIV. However, the use of antiretroviral therapy (ART) reduces the amount of HIV in the body, and helps prevent HIV from progressing to AIDS. Treatment also decreases the chance of transmitting HIV to others (treatment as prevention). Due to these medications, HIV is no longer considered a terminal illness. Many people still live long and healthy lives after becoming infected with HIV.

Prevention

Reduce your risk for HIV infection:

  • Get tested if you have ever had condomless sex or any exposure to blood
  • Get tested regularly if you are at ongoing risk
  • Use condoms the right way every time you have anal or vaginal sex
  • Choose activities with little to no HIV risk like oral sex (which may still be high risk for other sexually transmitted infections [STI] like syphilis and gonorrhea)
  • Don't inject drugs, or if you do, don't share needles, syringes, or other injection equipment
  • If you are at ongoing risk for HIV, ask your health care provider if pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is right for you
  • If you think you've been exposed to HIV within the last 3 days, ask a health care provider about post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) right away. PEP can prevent HIV, but it must be started within 72 hours of being exposed
  • Get tested and treated for other STIs
If you are living with HIV
  • You can live a long and healthy life with HIV treatment and care
  • Find and stay connected to HIV care. It can keep you healthy and help reduce the risk of transmitting HIV to others
  • Take your HIV medicine as prescribed
  • Use condoms the right way every time you have sex, and talk to your partners about PrEP
  • Get tested and treated for other STIs

Manitoba Health and Seniors Care Resources

For the Public

Information on testing

If you have been in contact with blood or other body fluids that you suspect might be infected with HIV, it is critical that you consult a health care provider immediately. Your health care provider may request HIV testing for you.

For Health Care Providers

Forms


Other Resources

Communicable Disease Control (CDC)
Public Health
Manitoba Health and Seniors Care

4th Floor - 300 Carlton St.
Winnipeg MB  R3B 3M9  CANADA

Health Links – Info Santé
204-788-8200 or 1-888-315-9257

Ask Health