What is it?

The human immun­od­e­fi­cien­cy virus (HIV) is a virus that caus­es the acquired immune defi­cien­cy syn­drome (AIDS). HIV dam­ages your immune sys­tem, mak­ing it hard­er for you to fight oth­er illnesses.

How do I get it?

HIV spreads when infect­ed blood, semen, or vagi­nal flu­id gets into your blood. It can enter your blood through a break in your skin or mucosa (thin, wet skin inside your mouth, vagi­na or rec­tum) – which you might not even know you have. It’s main­ly spread through sex­u­al con­tact, or when injec­tion drug nee­dles or tat­too equip­ment are shared. There also may be a risk of trans­mit­ting HIV by shar­ing crack pipes and sniff­ing’ gear. HIV can also be trans­mit­ted from moth­er to child dur­ing preg­nan­cy, dur­ing deliv­ery, and after deliv­ery via breastfeeding.

What should I be look­ing for?

Many peo­ple have no idea they even have been infect­ed with HIV. They may not look or feel sick, and they may not show any symp­toms for 7 to 10 years after they’re infect­ed. They might feel like they have the cold or flu soon after they’ve been infect­ed, but they like­ly won’t know they have HIV.

How do I get tested?

HIV is diag­nosed through a blood test at your health care provider’s office or a clinic.

Can I get rid of it?

There is no cure for HIV. How­ev­er, there is effec­tive treat­ment for HIV that can slow down the virus in the body. This helps peo­ple to stay health­i­er and even pre­vent sex­u­al trans­mis­sion of HIV to their partners.

Morn­ing-after’ / Post-expo­sure prophylaxis

Just like we have the Morn­ing-after Pill to help pre­vent preg­nan­cy, there’s also some­thing like a morn­ing-after’ treat­ment if you might have been exposed to HIV very recent­ly. It’s called Post-Expo­sure Pro­phy­lax­is,’ or PEP. It con­sists of tak­ing anti-HIV drugs very soon after a pos­si­ble expo­sure, to pre­vent an HIV infec­tion from estab­lish­ing. PEP isn’t avail­able to every­one, and it should be start­ed with­in just a cou­ple hours after expo­sure (and no more than 72 hours after expo­sure). If you’ve had con­tact with some­one who you sus­pect might be HIV pos­i­tive (through unpro­tect­ed anal or vagi­nal sex, needle­stick injuries, or shar­ing nee­dles), go to your local emer­gency room — HSC is rec­om­mend­ed if you are in Win­nipeg — or call Health Links at (204) 7888200 or toll-free 18883159257.

Pre­vent­ing HIV with med­ica­tion — Pre-Expo­sure Pro­phy­lax­is – PrEP

There is med­ica­tion called Pre-Expo­sure Pro­phy­lax­is, or PrEP used to pre­vent get­ting HIV. PrEP is not avail­able to every­one in Man­i­to­ba. You need to con­tact a health care provider to dis­cuss how to access PrEP and the cost. PrEP is not cov­ered by Man­i­to­ba Phar­ma­care, but may be cov­ered by some third party/​private insur­ance com­pa­nies. The cost is cov­ered for peo­ple who have First Nations & Inu­it Health Branch ben­e­fits. If you are in Win­nipeg, con­nect with Nine Cir­cles Com­mu­ni­ty Health Cen­tre to talk to a nurse about start­ing PrEP. Out­side Win­nipeg, you should talk to your pri­ma­ry care provider.