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Questions and Answers

What Is HIV? AIDS? How do People Get HIV?

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HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. If it’s not treated, it can lead to AIDS, Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome. But, people with HIV can get treated and live as long as anyone else. People can get HIV from vaginal or anal sex. There’s a low risk from oral sex. People can also get it from sharing needles for drugs, piercings, or tattoos.

Someone who doesn’t have HIV can lower their risk by using condoms, getting tested regularly, and taking medication like PEP or PrEP. People who have HIV can lower the risk for their partners by getting treated and regularly checking to see if they have an undetectable viral load. This means they have very little HIV in their body. When they do, it’s almost impossible for them to pass it to someone else.

How does HIV work?

Without treatment, HIV weakens someone’s immune system. This makes it harder for their body to fight off infections, so they’re more likely to get sick. If their body stops fighting off enough infections that are usually hard to get, doctors say they have AIDS status. Even then, they can get on treatment for HIV, start fighting off more infections, and live a long life with HIV.

There’s no cure for HIV, but people who go on treatment can live as long as someone without HIV.

How can someone get HIV?

There are 5 bodily fluids that can pass HIV:

  • Semen (cum)/pre-cum
  • Vaginal fluid
  • Anal fluid
  • Blood
  • Breast milk (only from a parent to a baby)

To get the virus, 3 things need to happen:

  • One person involved needs to already have HIV.
  • They need to have more of the virus in their system. This usually means they aren’t on treatment or they just started.
  • One of the 5 bodily fluids that contain pass HIV needs to be around.
  • The fluid needs a way to get into your body. This is almost always from a needle into your bloodstream or through the vagina or anus. Rarely, it can get in through the mouth.

Can I get HIV from kissing? From oral sex?

A lot of people ask if you can get the virus from kissing. You can’t get HIV from saliva, it’s almost impossible to get it from kissing.

People also ask if someone can get HIV through oral sex. Receiving oral sex has low or no risk because you can’t get it from saliva. Giving oral sex is still low risk, because it’s harder for the virus to get in through someone’s mouth or stomach.

Can I get HIV from…?

There are different levels of risk for getting HIV from different things.

There’s no real risk for HIV from:

  • Kissing
  • Masturbating each other
  • Shaking hands
  • Using the same toilet
  • Sharing drinks
  • Oral sex with a condom or dental dam (a square of latex you between a mouth and a vagina or an anus)

It’s rare, but there’s a low risk from:

  • Oral sex without a condom or dental dam
  • Anal or vaginal sex with a condom
  • Sharing straws for snorting

There’s a high risk from:

  • Sharing needles for using drugs
  • Sharing tattoo or piercing needles
  • Anal or vaginal sex without a condom

How can I protect myself from getting HIV?

The best way to help protect yourself from getting the virus when having sex is:

  • Using condoms for vaginal and anal sex
  • Using condoms or dental dams (squares of latex) for oral sex
  • Adding lube to lower the risk for any tears or irritation
  • Using PrEP, or pre-exposure prophylaxis. This is a drug you can take every day to lower your risk for HIV.
  • Getting tested regularly

While these all help to lower the risk for HIV, they might not protect against other STIs. Sex is also never 100% safe because condoms can break or other things can happen. If you’re worried, it might help to remember that people can live long and happy lives with HIV. Some studies show that people living with HIV live just as long as those living without the virus.

Is there a cure for HIV?

There is no cure for HIV. But, there are treatments that can help HIV positive people live well into their 70’s. So they can have the virus, but never get AIDS and live as long as someone who doesn’t have it.

Most people on treatment for HIV have an undetectable viral load. This means that there’s a very small amount of the virus in their body and they can’t pass the virus to other people.

More info:

  • HIV 101

    A page on Aids Community Care Montreal’s website that outlines basic facts about HIV and AIDS. It explains: what HIV is and how HIV transmission occurs; what AIDS is and how it develops and what Post-Exposure Profylaix is and how it is used. It also provides contact information to places in Montreal where PEP is available. 

  • HIV Testing

    Information about what you should expect if you decide to take an HIV test, what you should consider beforehand, and options if you test positive for HIV. 

  • HIV/AIDS Treatment and Care

    Brief introduction to antiretroviral treatment, combination therapy, and some examples of antiretroviral drugs. 

  • An HIV/AIDS Roundup – Scarleteen

    Article that dispels common myths about HIV and AIDS and provides information about HIV prevention, testing and transmission.

  • AIDS Community Care Montreal (ACCM)

    Community organization that provides support to people living with HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C, access to education and prevention materials, and free condoms and lube.

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