HIV symptoms, prevention and treatment
Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a virus that attacks the body’s immune system. Currently, there is no cure for HIV, but consistent use of medication can reduce the amount of virus in the body and help the immune system to stay strong and the infected person to remain healthy. Without treatment the virus damages the immune system making a person vulnerable to many different kinds of infections, diseases and cancers and may become AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome).
Make an appointment at any of our clinics in Greater Victoria to have a confidential HIV test, or to find out more. We also offer non-nominal (no name required) tests.
- How HIV spreads
- HIV prevention
- HIV symptoms
- Risks of untreated HIV
- HIV tests and diagnosis
- HIV/AIDS treatment
For further information, visit BCCDC’s HIV page.
How HIV spreads
Worldwide, millions of people are living with HIV. In Canada, the incidence is rising.
HIV is found in sexual fluids (semen, vaginal and anal fluids), blood and breast milk. It is spread by sharing these fluids.
- HIV can be spread through unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex with an infected partner, or by sharing sex toys
- HIV can be transmitted by blood to blood contact (sharing drug equipment; using unsterilized needles for tattoos, piercings or acupuncture; sharing sharp personal items such as razors, etc.)
- HIV can be spread by untested blood transfusions, organ transplants or artificial insemination. In Canada all donors have been screened for HIV since 1985.
- An infected mother can pass the virus to her baby during pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding. Medications can be taken during pregnancy to prevent the virus from spreading to the baby.
- Use condoms to reduce the risk of HIV during vaginal and anal sex.
- Use condoms and oral dams to reduce risk of transmission during oral sex.
- Avoid sharing equipment for drugs, or other items that contain blood.
- Use of PrEP (Pre-exposure prophylaxis) – a medication that can be taken by HIV negative people to reduce their risk of becoming HIV positive. Taking this medication daily allows HIV negative people to reduce their risk of acquiring HIV from a HIV positive partner(s). PrEP is currently a provincially funded program for eligible British Columbians and federally funded program for Indigenous people with status. In Victoria a person can get more information about PrEP through the good folks at AVI 1-800-665-2437. PrEP only helps to lower the risk of acquiring HIV not any other STIs. At this point, Island Sexual Health isn’t able to offer PrEP support but we’re hopeful that will change in the near future.
- PEP (Post Exposure Prophylaxis) medication is used as a response within 72 hours to a potential exposure to HIV. To access PEP, go to the nearest Emergency Room at your local hospital or call AVI 1-800-665-2437.
- Make an appointment to get tested for HIV/AIDS.
- Many people have no symptoms at all for the first few years.
- When symptoms do appear, they can be varied and non-specific such as fatigue, weight loss, night sweats, swollen lymph nodes and constant “other” infections.
Make an appointment to have an HIV test. We offer confidential, non-nominal testing in Greater Victoria, BC.
Risks of HIV
HIV can weaken the immune system without treatment, making a person vulnerable to other infections and diseases. When the immune system has been severely weakened by HIV, it may progress to AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome). Even without treatment, it takes a long time (usually 10-12 years) for HIV to progress to AIDS. Having HIV does NOT mean you have AIDS or will develop AIDS.
HIV tests and diagnosis
HIV is diagnosed with a blood test. According to the BCCDC, the best time to test most people is 6 weeks after having sex with a partner.
The blood test either test for antibodies to the virus or small amounts of the virus itself. Usually, antibodies are present within 3-6 weeks after contact. This time is called a window period (the time before the antibody will show up in this blood test). A routine blood test can be ordered and results usually are back in 10-21 days. A rapid point of care (POC) test can be done by providing a drop of blood from the finger and the results will be available within a few minutes. Not all clinics offer the POC testing. Currently, our clinics do not use the POC testing method but other clinics in Victoria do.
Make an appointment to have a HIV test. We offer confidential, non-nominal testing in Greater Victoria, BC.
HIV and AIDS treatment
Currently, there is no cure for HIV, but there are treatments that can delay the progression of the infection. The treatment is a combination of medications called HAART (Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy). HAART lowers the amount of virus present in the body and helps a person to stay healthy. Once a person is diagnosed with HIV, they work closely with a health care provider to decide the best course of treatment for their situation. Contact our clinics for treatment resources in Victoria, or contact AIDS Vancouver Island.