The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) attacks and weakens the immune system. The infected person is then affected by various other diseases and infections. In time, if the HIV infection is not treated, it can develop into AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome).
People who get HIV are infected for life.
Some people infected with HIV do not have symptoms. Others may have symptoms but not realize they are associated to an HIV infection. A person may be infected without knowing it.
When a person has symptoms, they appear 2 to 4 weeks after infection.
Symptoms of an HIV infection can include the following:
These symptoms usually go away without treatment after 1 to 3 weeks. However, the virus stays in the person’s body. It can be spread and lead to complications.
Consult a health-care professional or call Info-Santé 811 if you have symptoms or if you have taken part in 'at risk' behaviours, such as:
There is no treatment to cure HIV infection. The virus stays in the person’s body for life. Medication and appropriate medical care help control the virus and limit the severity of the infection.
Nowadays, people living with HIV and who have good medical care can expect to live as well and as long as the general population.
People with HIV should notify their sex and drug partners as quickly as possible. This way, their partners:
Infected people must inquire about the legal obligation they have to disclose their HIV status. It is recommended that they discuss this with a health-care professional. They can also communicate with HIV information and legal support services provided by the Coalition des organismes communautaires québécois de lutte contre le sida (COCQ-sida):
If after a few years a person does not receive medical treatment and care, the HIV weakens his or her immune system. This can lead to serious problems, including certain cancers and infections of the lungs, eyes and brain.
The HIV infection eventually develops into AIDS. At this stage, the immune system is defenceless and complications from the infection can lead to serious consequences, including death.
An infected person can spread HIV even if he or she does not have symptoms. The risk of catching or spreading HIV increases if the person has another sexually transmitted and blood borne infection (STBBI).
HIV is spread through sexual contact and through contact with infected blood.
Sexual transmission can happen during:
However, transmission of HIV during oral sex is rare.
Sexual transmission can occur in the absence of orgasm or ejaculation.
Transmission through blood can occur during:
An infected mother can also pass on the infection to her baby during pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding. For further information, read the Sexually Transmitted and Blood-borne Infections (STBBIs) and Pregnancy page.
HIV is not spread through daily activities. The following acts present no risk:
There is no vaccine to protect against HIV.
For the best protection against HIV, use a condom:
The use of a sheet of latex to cover the vulva or anus during oral sex lowers the risk of spreading HIV. It helps prevent direct contact between the mouth and the genitals. A sheet of latex can be made by unrolling a condom, cutting off both ends and then cutting it lengthwise.
Sex toys should not be shared. People who share sex toys can lower the risk of spreading HIV by covering them with a condom. They must change condoms after each partner.
Under certain conditions, taking antiviral drugs may reduce the risk of catching or spreading HIV. The following people can discuss options available to them with a health-care professional:
The use of new paraphernalia for the preparation, injection and inhalation of drugs lowers the risk of catching HIV through blood.
Never share drug paraphernalia. To know the location of distribution points for drug injecting material, call Info-Santé 811.
Tattoo artists and piercers must use new, disposable or sterilized material. Such precaution lowers the risk of catching or spreading HIV. This includes razors, needles, blades, bottles and inks, as well as everything that comes into contact with the skin or blood. Tattoo artists and piercers must also wash their hands and wear gloves.
A person must get tested for HIV if he or she has taken part in 'at risk' behaviours, such as:
This way, he or she can prevent complications and avoid spreading HIV to other people.
A blood test can detect if you have HIV.
In some CLSCs, it is possible to be tested for HIV anonymously, without having to show your health insurance card.
To be tested, consult a health-care professional or call Info-Santé 811.
If you have come into contact with the blood, sperm or vaginal secretions of a person who could be infected with HIV, consult a health-care professional or call Info-Santé 811 immediately.
You may have to receive preventive treatment to protect you from catching HIV. This treatment is called “post-exposure prophylaxis”. Ideally, it must be administered within 72 hours of contact.
Last update: March 9, 2017 3:24 PM
The information on this website by no means replaces the advice of a health professional. If you have questions regarding your health, contact Info-Santé 811 or see a health professional.