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HIV FAQ

What is HIV?

HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus.

HIV is a virus that attacks your immune system, the body’s built-in defence against disease and illness. You can have HIV for many years without knowing it and pass it on to others. That is why it is so important to be tested regularly.

While there is still no cure for HIV, treatments have advanced considerably. Today, most people with HIV can live long and healthy lives if they get and remain on treatment. Today’s treatments are so effective, that if maintained HIV can no longer be detected through testing. It doesn’t mean the HIV virus is “gone” but that it is no longer able to be detected in your blood and therefore, it also cannot be passed on to others through sexual activity or to an unborn child. This is called U=U or Undectable=Untransmittable. The only way to achieve U=U is to reamin consistent with treatment. 

Without treatment, HIV can progress and cause Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS), the most advanced stage of infection. 

While there is no vaccine to prevent HIV, there are many effective ways to prevent infection or to minimize risk. 

How Is HIV Transmitted?

How Is HIV Transmitted?

HIV is passed from one person to another through 5 bodily fluids: 

  1. Blood 
  2. Semen (including pre-cum) 
  3. Rectal fluid 
  4. Vaginal/front hole fluid 
  5. Breast/chest milk 

HIV is transmitted when one of these fluids that contain HIV enters the bloodstream through broken skin or the moist linings of the body (vagina, rectum, and foreskin). HIV cannot pass through healthy, unbroken skin. It cannot be transmitted by hugging, kissing, sharing toilet seats or through insect bites. 

The most common ways HIV is passed from one person to another are: 

 through sex 

 by sharing injection equipment 

It can also be passed from mother to child during pregnancy, birth or breast/chest feeding. 

If you think you may be infected with HIV or hepatitis C, the only way to know for sure is to get tested. Testing is voluntary and can be anonymous. Your results will remain confidential.

What is HIV?

HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus.

HIV is a virus that attacks your immune system, the body’s built-in defence against disease and illness. You can have HIV for many years without knowing it and pass it on to others. That is why it is so important to be tested regularly.

While there is still no cure for HIV, treatments have advanced considerably. Today, most people with HIV can live long and healthy lives if they get and remain on treatment. Today’s treatments are so effective, that if maintained HIV can no longer be detected through testing. It doesn’t mean the HIV virus is “gone” but that it is no longer able to be detected in your blood and therefore, it also cannot be passed on to others through sexual activity or to an unborn child. This is called U=U or Undectable=Untransmittable. The only way to achieve U=U is to reamin consistent with treatment. 

Without treatment, HIV can progress and cause Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS), the most advanced stage of infection. 

While there is no vaccine to prevent HIV, there are many effective ways to prevent infection or to minimize risk. 

How Is HIV Transmitted?

HIV is passed from one person to another through 5 bodily fluids: 

  1. Blood 
  2. Semen (including pre-cum) 
  3. Rectal fluid 
  4. Vaginal/front hole fluid 
  5. Breast/chest milk 

HIV is transmitted when one of these fluids that contain HIV enters the bloodstream through broken skin or the moist linings of the body (vagina, rectum, and foreskin). HIV cannot pass through healthy, unbroken skin. It cannot be transmitted by hugging, kissing, sharing toilet seats or through insect bites. 

The most common ways HIV is passed from one person to another are: 

 through sex 

 by sharing injection equipment 

It can also be passed from mother to child during pregnancy, birth or breast/chest feeding. 

If you think you may be infected with HIV or hepatitis C, the only way to know for sure is to get tested. Testing is voluntary and can be anonymous. Your results will remain confidential.

When to get tested – HIV 

When you can test for HIV depends on the type of test you choose. Tests for HIV are looking for antibodies, not the virus itself, and it takes several weeks for your body to produce enough antibodies to show up on a test. This is called the “window period” and you must wait until you are through the window period before testing. The window period is different for different types of tests:

  1. For POC (Point of Care) or “rapid test” the Window Period is 3 months. The test involves taking a small sample of blood from a finger prick.. The results are ready within minutes. 
  2. An HIV Self test is the same process as a POC or “rapid test” and the Window period is 3 months. However, you can do this test at home. The test involves taking a small sample of blood from a finger prick. The results are ready within minutes. Contact us if you’d like a free HIV self-test [link to self test page]
  3. Lab Test. In Ontario, Public Health Laboratory’s 4th generation blood tests can pick up antibodies much earlier and the window period for this test has been reduced to 6 weeks.  For laboratory tests, it is recommended that you are tested at 3 weeks after possible exposure, and if negative, test again at 6 weeks. Laboratory tests involve drawing a blood sample to be tested in a lab. This usually takes about a week to process and receive the results. 

Where to get Tested for HIV:

You can be tested at your doctor’s office, a Sexual Health Centre (insert link to testing locations: https://www.niagararegion.ca/living/health_wellness/sexualhealth/Sexual-Health-Centres.aspx )

or a walk-in clinic. You can also contact Positive Living Niagara for a free HIV Self-Test kit (insert link). 

What is Hepatitis C?

The hepatitis C virus most often enters your bloodstream through breaks in the skin or in the lining of the nose and mouth. Though uncommon, it can also be transmitted sexually.  Hepatitis C is a strong virus: it can survive in a tiny drop of blood that is too small to see and can live outside of the body for many days. In certain conditions, such as inside a syringe, the virus can survive for many weeks. This means dried blood can also pass on the virus.

How is Hep C transmitted: 

  • Sharing equipment for injecting, smoking or snorting drugs.
  • Re-using tattooing or piercing equipment that was not cleaned properly.
  • Re-using medical equipment that was meant to be used only once, such as needles for vaccines or medicines, or medical equipment that was not cleaned properly before re-use. This is very rare in Canada. 
  • Sharing personal items such as toothbrushes, razors and nail clippers that may have traces of blood on them can pass hepatitis C.
  • Hepatitis transmission during sex is not common. The risk increases if you have condomless anal sex or group sex, if you use drugs before or during sex, if you have sex where blood might be present, or if you or your partner(s) have HIV or another sexually transmitted infection.
  • Hepatitis C can be passed from parent to child during pregnancy or childbirth, but this is also not common.

Testing – Hepatitis C 

It is recommended that you are tested 3 – 6 months after the possibility of coming into contact with Hepatitis C. The test looks for antibodies, not the actual virus, which takes several weeks to produce 

It usually takes two blood tests to tell whether you have Hepatitis C. The first test, an antibody test, checks to see if you have ever come in contact with the virus. The second test will check to see if you currently have an active Hepatitis C infection. 

Where to get testing – Hepatitis C

Hep C testing locations: https://www.niagarahealth.on.ca/site/hepatitis-c-care

Sexually Transmitted Blood-Borne Infections (STBBIs) 

Sexually Transmitted Blood-Borne Infections (STBBIs), are also commonly know as sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are caused by microorganisms that can be passed from one person to another through vaginal, oral or anal sex. Consistent and correct use of condoms and dental dams will substantially reduce the risk of acquiring or transmitting these infections.

Click here (link to: https://www.catie.ca/essentials/sti-basics) to learn about the most common STIs in Canada. 

Our education team is committed to providing accurate and factual information, specifically around HIV, Hepatitis C and STBBIs. 

 

We ensure individuals are able to make well-informed decisions about their health and well-being. 

We are available to attend community events and host education workshops/presentations throughout the Niagara Region. 

To speak to a staff member, request a presentation or workshop please contact us: 

By email: education@positivelivingniagara.com 

Phone: 905-984-8684 

Or complete this presentation request

SAFER SEX

Safer sex is defined as any sexual activity using precautions such as condoms or dental dams to reduce the risk of acquiring HIV and/or other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). 

Safer sex acknowledges that sex can and should still be fun, stimulating and erotic while using precautions. 

Safer sex is for everyone, regardless of gender, age, race, sexual orientation, number of partners or whether you feel you are in a monogamous relationship. 

The term safer sex acknowledges that people may not use these items every time they have sex. Safer sex reflects the fact that things such as condoms and dental dams greatly reduce, but do not completely eliminate, the risk of getting or giving infections.

You will be better able to protect yourself if you:

  • Know about HIV/AIDS and safer sex.
  • Make safer sex choices before you are in a sexual situation.
  • Get tested for HIV on a regular basis.
  • Feel comfortable about your sexuality.
  • Talk to your partner about what you are thinking.
  • Be a person who respects your partner’s safer sex choices.

We provide condoms, lube and dental dams free of charge to individuals. 

Questions about safer sex?  Visit www.catie.ca to learn more or contact one of our educators at 905-984-8684

PRIORITY POPULATIONS

Anyone can get HIV, no matter your age, sex, ethnic origin or who you have sex with. However, social determinants of health significantly impact the lives of individuals and communities, putting some people at higher systemic risk for HIV than others. 

Positive Living Niagara is working to address these inequalities through the work we do.  

The Ontario HIV/AIDS Strategy recognizes five populations in Ontario most affected by HIV:

-Gay, Bisexual and men who have sex with men

-African, Caribbean and Black communities

-At-Risk Women*

-Individuals who use drugs

-Indigenous Communities

* Cis and Trans women, including African, Caribbean and black women, women who use drugs, Indigenous women, women experiencing violence or who are incarcerated, and other women who face systemic and social inequities, are more likely to be exposed to HIV through a sexual or drug using partner

Positive Living Niagara provides education and community development services to address the unique sexual health concerns of women*, gay, bisexual and men who have sex with men (gbMSM) and African, Caribbean and Black (ACB) communities. We also provide specific services to Migrant Agricultural Workers. 

How are women* in Ontario impacted by HIV? Click here to find out. (link to WHAI)

For more information about women* and sexual health, please contact Sarah: sburtch@positivelivingniagara.com 

How are Gay, bisexual & men who have sex with men (gbMSM) in Ontario impacted by HIV? Click here to find out. (link to GMSH)

For more information about gbMSM and sexual health, please contact Darryl: ddyball@positivelivingniagara.com 

How are African, Caribbean & Black (ACB) communities impacted by HIV? Click here to find out. (link to ACCHO)

For more information about ACB sexual health, please contact Meagan Cook mcook@positivelivingniagara.com

How are Individuals who use drugs impacted by HIV? Click here to find out (link to https://www.catie.ca/prevention-in-focus/reducing-harms-for-people-who-use-drugs-emerging-approaches-and-time-honoured or something similar as determined by SW)

For more information about sexual health and drug use, please contact __________(SW staff)

How are Indigenous communities impacted by HIV? Click here to find out (link to OHAS https://www.oahas.org/

Our education team works with the Indigenous community and can connect you to resources to support your journey. Contact Sarah Burtch for more information sburtch@positivelivingniagara.com 

For information about our Migrant Agricultural Workers program, please contact:

Sara Escarraga at sescarraga@positivelivingniagara.com (Spanish Speaking Workers)

Meagan Cook at mcook@positivelivingniagara.com (Caribbean workers) 

Are you a newcomer to Canada? Welcome! 

Hello Ontario (https://helloontario.info/) provides comprehensive information about not only sexual health, but also navigating the health and social services system. If you are a newcomer living with HIV in the Niagara Region and need support, please click here (direct to support services link) 

RESOURCES

CATIE: Canada’s comprehensive information source about HIV, Hep C and Sexually   Transmitted Infections in easy to read format

HALCO: Legal issues and HIV

OHTN: the latest HIV research in Ontario

WHAI: information specific to HIV and women*

ACCHO: information specific to HIV and African, Caribbean and Black communities

GMSH: information specific to HIV and gay, bisexual, men who have sex with men

OHAS: information specific to HIV and Indigenous communities