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What about HIV?

The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) directly attacks the immune system and weakens it. This can lead to various illnesses or infections in the infected person.


The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a sexually transmitted and blood-borne infection that attacks the affected individual’s immune system. Although the symptoms can be treated, there is no cure at this time. 

If left untreated, HIV can progress to a more serious disease, known as Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS).


When to consult for HIV?

There is no cure for HIV infection. The virus remains in the person's body for life. However, with medication and proper medical care, the virus can be controlled and the severity of the infection can be limited.

Infected people should learn about their legal obligation to disclose their HIV status (say they are infected with HIV). It is recommended that they discuss this with a health care professional.

A person should be tested for HIV when he or she has engaged in risky behaviors, such as:

  • Unprotected sex;

  • Sharing drug preparation, injection or inhalation equipment

  • Tattooing and piercing with non-sterile equipment.

This will help the person prevent complications and avoid transmitting HIV to others.

Signs and symptoms

Some people infected with HIV do not have symptoms. Others may have symptoms but not realize that they are associated with HIV infection. So a person can be infected without knowing it.

When a person has symptoms, they appear 2 to 4 weeks after being infected with the virus.

HIV is divided into four phases, each with its own distinct symptoms:

  1. Phase 1

    (primary infection)

    • Fever¬†

    • Fatigue¬†

    • Headaches¬†

    • Swollen nodes¬†

    • Muscle pain¬†

    • Nausea or vomiting¬†

    • Diarrhea¬†

    • Skin rashes¬†

    • Ulcers in the mouth¬†

    • Significant weight loss

  2. Phase 2

    (chronic asymptomatic infection)

    Latency period when the individual is still infected but does not show symptoms.

  3. Phase 3

    (chronic symptomatic infection)

    • Difficulty fighting infections in general¬†

    • Fatigue¬†

    • Persistent fever¬†

    • Persistent diarrhea¬†

  4. Phase 4

    (AIDS)

    Corresponds to the most advanced stage of the infection, where the efficiency of the immune system becomes less. This leads to so-called opportunistic infections, which take advantage of the weakened immune system to establish themselves: 

    • Pneumonia¬†

    • Various types of cancer, including lymphoma¬†

Phase 1 symptoms usually disappear without treatment after 1 to 3 weeks. However, the virus remains in the person's body. It can be transmitted and lead to complications.

Transmission

HIV is transmitted through sex and blood 

Through sexual intercourse : 

  • Oral sex (contact between the mouth and the penis, vulva, vagina, or anus)¬†

  • Vaginal intercourse (penile penetration of the vagina)¬†

  • Anal sex (penis in the anus)¬†

  • Contact between genitals¬†

Sharing sex toys 

Note that transmission through oral sex, however, is rarer. 

By blood: 

  • Use of soiled tattoo/piercing equipment¬†

  • Sharing injection or drug inhalation equipment¬†

  • Contact between the infected person's blood and damaged skin or mucous membranes¬†

  • Mother-to-baby transmission during pregnancy, breastfeeding or childbirth¬†

Remember: HIV is not transmitted through everyday activities. Contrary to many misconceptions, there is no risk of transmission from the following activities: 

  • Shaking hands¬†

  • Cheek-to-cheek kissing¬†

  • Using public swimming pools¬†

  • Using a public toilet¬†

  • Sharing food or utensils¬†

Window or incubation period (time before the disease is detectable) 

Between 14 and 21 days

Prevention

The main protection against HIV is the use of condoms. Condoms must be used during all genital contact and during all oral, vaginal and anal sex. 

The use of a latex pad to cover the vulva or anus during oral sex is also a reliable means of protection. To make a latex square, simply unroll a condom, cut off the ends and cut it lengthwise. 

It is also recommended that sex toys not be shared, or covered with a condom whenever possible, making sure to change the condom between partners. 

Drug preparation and use

Using new equipment to prepare, inject and inhale drugs reduces the risk of getting HIV through blood.

Drug equipment should never be shared.

Tattooing and piercing

People who tattoo or pierce should use new, disposable or sterilized equipment. This precaution reduces the risk of catching or transmitting HIV. This includes razors, needles, blades, bottles and inks, as well as anything that comes in contact with skin or blood. People who tattoo or pierce should also wash their hands and wear gloves.

Taking antiviral medications

Under certain conditions, taking antiviral medications can reduce the risk of getting or transmitting HIV. The following people can discuss their options with a health care provider:

  • People living with HIV;

  • People who are at high risk of getting HIV.

What is PrEP?

Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is a way to reduce the risk of HIV infection in people who are most at risk.

Treatment

  • Although there is currently no cure for HIV, certain drugs and medical treatments can control the virus, limit its symptoms and increase life expectancy to that of the general population.¬†

    Following diagnosis, it is recommended that sexual or drug-using partners be contacted so that they too can be tested and treated if necessary.

    If left untreated, HIV can progress through various stages of the disease to AIDS, where it can create various cancers and opportunistic infections.

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