HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. It is a virus that can weaken your immune system, leaving the body vulnerable to serious disease. Today, people living with HIV can protect their health, and the health of their sexual partners by taking simple oral medications (usually daily) to reduce the virus in their blood to undetectable levels. When treatment has reduced HIV to undetectable levels for more than six months, they can not transmit HIV sexually to another person.

Sometimes a person has flu-like symptoms or a rash when first infected with HIV, however often people are infected without knowing it. Treatment is most effective when people are treated as early as possible.

How is HIV transmitted?

Even when a person has high levels of HIV in their body, only five body fluids can contain enough HIV to transmit HIV infection: blood, semen (including pre-cum), rectal fluid, vaginal fluid and breast milk.

The most common ways that these fluids are shared are:

  • anal sex
  • vaginal sex and
  • the sharing of needles or other equipment to inject or inhale drugs.

The Pharmacist can answer questions about about other high-risk activities and prevention methods like condoms and preventative medications (referred to as PrEP) can reduce the risk of these activities.

You can only be infected with HIV if your partner has HIV. However, often people can’t be sure whether or not their partner has HIV or an undetectable viral load, so Ontario encourages testing for people from the populations most at risk.