If we don't talk about
HIV/AIDS in our
community, who will?
Facts

HIV

stands for the Human Immunodeficiency Virus. It is a virus that attacks our immune system using our white blood cells. When we are in good health, the body has a natural way of protecting itself from disease. But, when we have HIV or the advanced stage called AIDS, our body cannot fight diseases well. There is not a cure for neither HIV nor AIDS however there are many treatments

AIDS

AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. This is also known as the advanced stages of HIV. AIDS is diagnosed when an individual has at least one opportunistic infection, weakening the body to protect itself from fighting off the virus.

RISKS

HIV is found in different body fluids of people who are infected. Blood, vaginal fluid, semen (including pre-cum) and breast milk have enough HIV to pass on to another person. However, we cannot get it from simple contact with these fluids.

Most people become infected with HIV through unprotected sex (in the vagina or anus) with someone who is already infected. However, many people who share needles to inject drugs also have a high risk of becoming infected with HIV. HIV positive mothers can also pass it on to their babies during pregnancy, birth or breast-feeding.

You cannot tell that someone is infected with HIV simply by looking at the person. Most people who are infected with HIV will look just as healthy as any other person. Also, many people who are infected with HIV may be unaware of their infection if they have not had a blood test for HIV.

An individual can have and spread HIV for up to 10 years without having any symptoms of HIV or AIDS as a result getting tested if involved in any of these risks is the only way to ensure and protect yourself.

Women

  • Women are 5 times more likely than men to get HIV for several reasons. For example, the female genital tract, cervix and uterus provide a greater surface area for absorbing the virus. Also, semen may remain in the genital tract and beyond for up to three days.
  • Some cultural and religious beliefs about the roles of women can limit their ability to negotiate safer sex or expose them to sexual abuse.
  • Some women live with the threat of violence in their relationships and may not feel safe enough to say no to sex or to negotiate safer sex.
  • Homelessness also increases HIV risk, as women may feel they must trade sex for shelter, or are at risk for rape.
  • Cultural practices such as female genital mutilation (FGM) may increase the risk of becoming infected with HIV if (a) the tools used to perform FGM are not sterilized, (b) the affected area does not heal properly despite appearances, (c) the scarring is ruptured through sexual intercourse or childbirth.

Men

  • Some cultural, religious or social beliefs present unprotected sex as a man's prerogative, a sign of manhood and of good sexual health.
  • Community intolerance of gay and bisexual men and other men who have sex with men may lead some men to avoid HIV prevention education, or to engage in relationships that limit their ability to practice safer sex.

Youth

  • Young people experience many emotional and physical changes as they move into adulthood. And, some young people may feel ready to make decisions that they may not have the skills to handle.
  • Some youth do not consider HIV to be a youth issue, creating a false sense of safety.
  • Among girls and young women, the cells in the genital tract, cervix, and uterus do not fully mature until about age 18. This makes girls and young women highly vulnerable to HIV and other infections. This may increase the risk of HIV entering the body during sex.
  • To protect their children, parents may block access to condoms. But this may increase the risk of pregnancy, HIV and sexually transmitted infections if the children are sexually active. Parents and children need to discuss healthy behaviours and healthy choices, and how to maintain good health.

General

  • Getting drunk and high lowers our ability to make clear decisions and increases our risk for rape or unprotected sex.
  • Semen can live in the body for up to 2-3 days, providing a lot of opportunity for HIV to get into the bloodstream.
  • Having a sexually transmitted infection or yeast infection will increase our HIV risk because a more white blood cells are present.
  • Experiences of racism affect self-esteem and can lead to unhealthy coping activities.
  • If we do not understand how we get HIV and that we are all at risk, we will not take action to lower our risk.
  • Sharing sex toys without cleaning them or using a condom puts a person at risk of contracting HIV or sexually transmitted infections.
  • It is quite common for one member of a family to come to Canada first, get established, and then send for the other. While apart, they may be involved in sexual relationships that could put them at risk.

Choices

There are many ways of protecting ourselves from HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as:

  • Use latex or polyurethane condoms or female condoms during sex. You should also use water-based lube when you have anal sex.
  • Use a dry condom or dental dam (a square sheet of latex placed over the vagina) for oral sex. If you cannot find dental dams, you can cut the tip off a dry condom and cut along the length.
  • If you inject drugs, keep your needle for personal use only. Contact the Public Health Unit in your area about where you may access safer drug use equipment.
  • Use a new needle for tattooing every time.
  • New mothers who are HIV-positive (HIV+) should avoid breast-feeding. New mothers who have never been tested for HIV should discuss testing for HIV and advice about breastfeeding with their health care provider.
  • Use alcohol responsibly. Plan ahead.
  • Keep sex toys for personal use. But, if you share, use a condom or clean the toy before use with your partners.
  • Wait at least 30 minutes after brushing or flossing before oral sex. Cuts and tears in one's mouth can allow HIV to enter the body during oral sex.



References:

  1. Remis, RS., Swantee, C., Schiedel, L., and Liu, J., Report on HIV/AIDS in Ontario 2005. Ontario HIV Epidemiologic Monitoring Unit. March 2007.
  2. Remis RS, Whittingham EP. The HIV/AIDS epidemic among persons from HIV-endemic countries in Ontario, 1981-98: Situation report. 62 pp. Department of Public Health Sciences, University of Toronto, November 1999.
  3. HIV Update. Ontario HIV Epidemiological Monitoring Unit. www.phs.utoronto.ca/ohemu/HIVupdate_overview.html.
  4. HIV/AIDS. AIDS Healthcare Foundation. www.aidshealth.org/about-hiv-aids/hiv-aids/