Get the basics about the HIV virus, including what it is, how it is transmitted and treatment options.

HIV is the Human Immunodeficiency Virus. The virus weakens your immune system—the part of the body that protects you from disease. Without HIV treatment, your immune system can become too weak to fight infection and disease.

What is AIDS?

AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. It is the most serious stage of HIV infection. A person with AIDS has an immune system that has been extremely damaged through the HIV infection. This puts them at serious risk from life-threatening diseases.

With the right treatment and care it is possible for people with HIV to avoid getting AIDS, which usually takes many years to develop.

Is there a cure for HIV?

Although there is no cure for HIV right now, there are very effective treatments that are allowing people with HIV to live long and healthy lives.

Treatment for HIV involves taking a combination of prescribed drugs, called antiretrovirals. These medications cannot get rid of HIV but can keep it under control and dramatically lower the risk of passing HIV during sex. However they have to be taken every day in order to work.

With daily medication, regular monitoring and lifestyle changes such as exercise, reducing stress, getting more sleep and quitting smoking, HIV can be as manageable as diabetes, asthma or another chronic disease.

Learn more about HIV treatments.

How is HIV transmitted?

Anyone can get HIV. You can have it and not know it. You may not feel or look sick for many years but you can still pass it on to other people. The virus can be transmitted between people through blood or other body fluids that contain the virus. These include semen, vaginal fluid and breast milk.

Common ways for HIV to be spread:

  • Unprotected sexual intercourse with an infected partner.
  • Contact with infected blood (e.g., through sharing contaminated needles or syringes with other drug users).
  • Women with HIV can transmit the virus to their babies during pregnancy or birth.

Contact with saliva, tears or sweat has never been shown to result in someone getting HIV.

Read more about things that increase your risk of getting HIV.

Resources

  • CATIE
    Canada’s source for up-to-date HIV information and resources
  • HealthLink BC: HIV
    Detailed information about HIV and its causes, symptoms and treatments.