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HIV FAQ

Can I become infected if my partner has HIV?

A partnership where one person is infected with HIV and the other is not can be described as a sero-discordant (or discordant) relationship. There is a risk of HIV transmission if the discordant couple has unprotected sex. However, this risk can be greatly reduced with the use of condoms during vaginal, anal and oral sex. Both partners in a discordant sexual relationship should take on the responsibility of protecting one another from HIV infection.

Is it true that gay men are more at risk for HIV than other people?

Although anyone can be at risk for HIV, some people can be more at risk depending upon the types of sexual practices and drug use they are engaging in. Being gay does not necessarily mean you are at higher risk, but certain activities gay men sometimes participate in might put them at greater risk. Overall, the gay male population in Canada has higher rates of HIV infection than some other populations. Stigma and homophobia can affect a person's ability to access information about safer sex specifically for gay men.   

How safe is oral sex?

Although it is possible to become infected with HIV through oral sex, the risk of becoming infected in this way is much lower than the risk of infection via unprotected sexual intercourse with a man or woman.
When giving oral sex to a man (sucking or licking a man's penis) a person could become infected with HIV if infected semen came into contact with damaged and receding gums, or any cuts or sores they might have in their mouth.

Giving oral sex to a woman (licking a woman's vulva or vagina) is also considered relatively low risk. Transmission could take place if infected sexual fluids from a woman got into the mouth of her partner. The likelihood of infection might be increased if there is menstrual blood involved or if the woman is infected with another sexually transmitted disease.

The likelihood of either a man or a woman becoming infected with HIV as a result of receiving oral sex is extremely low, as saliva does not contain infectious quantities of HIV.

What are the chances of becoming infected if he doesn’t ejaculate inside me?

While research suggests that high concentrations of HIV can sometimes be detected in precum, it is difficult to judge whether HIV is present in sufficient quantities for infection to occur. To guard against the possibility of infection with HIV or any other STI it is best to practice safer sex by using condoms.

Can I transmit HIV to my baby during pregnancy or breastfeeding?

An HIV-infected pregnant woman can pass the virus on to her unborn baby either before or during birth. HIV can also be passed on during breastfeeding. If a woman knows that she is infected with HIV, there are drugs she can take to greatly reduce the chances of her child becoming infected. Other ways to lower the risk include choosing to have a caesarean section delivery and not breastfeeding.

Is deep kissing a route of HIV transmission?

Deep or open-mouthed kissing is a very low risk activity in terms of HIV transmission. HIV is only present in saliva in very minute amounts, insufficient to cause infection with HIV. There has been only one documented case of someone becoming infected with HIV through kissing; a result of exposure to infected blood during open-mouthed kissing. If you or your partner have blood in your mouth, you should avoid kissing until the bleeding stops.

Is unprotected anal intercourse more of an HIV risk than vaginal or oral sex?

Unprotected anal intercourse does carry a higher risk than most other forms of sexual activity. The lining of the rectum has fewer cells than that of the vagina, and therefore can be damaged more easily, causing bleeding during intercourse. This can then be a route into the bloodstream for infected sexual fluids or blood. There is also a risk to the insertive partner during anal intercourse, though this is lower than the risk to the receptive partner.

Can I become infected with HIV through normal social contact such as shaking hands, using toilet seats, swimming in pools, sharing cutlery, kissing, sneezes, and coughs?

No. HIV is not an airborne, water-borne or food-borne virus, and does not survive for very long outside the human body. Ordinary social contact such as kissing, shaking hands, coughing, and sharing cutlery will not result in the virus being passed from one person to another.

Is there risk of HIV transmission when having a tattoo, body piercing or getting a hair cut or shave?

There is a risk of HIV transmission if instruments contaminated with blood are not sterilized between clients. However, people who carry out body piercing or tattooing should follow procedures called 'universal precautions', which are designed to prevent the transmission of blood borne infections such as HIV and Hepatitis B.

When having a hair cut there is no risk of infection unless the skin is cut and infected blood gets into the wound. Traditional 'cut-throat' razors used by barbers now have disposable blades, which should only be used once, thus eliminating the risk from blood-borne infections such as Hepatitis and HIV.

Can I get HIV from a mosquito?

No, it is not possible to get HIV from mosquitoes. When taking blood from someone, mosquitoes do not inject blood from any previous person. The only thing that a mosquito injects is saliva, which acts as a lubricant and enables it to feed more efficiently.

Can I become infected with HIV if I inject drugs and share the needles with someone else without sterilizing the needles?

We strongly recommend that you use new equipment every time you inject. You can get new equipment from Counterpoint Needle & Syringe Program at Regional HIV/AIDS Connection.

There is a possibility of becoming infected with HIV if you share injecting equipment with someone who has the virus. If HIV infected blood remains inside the needle or in the syringe and someone else then uses it to inject themselves, that blood can be flushed into the bloodstream. Sharing needles, syringes, spoons, filters or water can pass on the virus. Disinfecting equipment between uses can reduce the likelihood of transmission, but does not eliminate it.

What is the purpose of Counterpoint Needle & Syringe Program at Regional HIV/AIDS Connection?

  • to reduce the transmission of HIVhepatitis C and other blood-borne infections among individuals who use drugs, and beyond into the larger community.
  • to educate service users about the health risks associated with drug use.
  • to provide information and materials necessary to practice safer drug use and safer sex.
  • to provide referrals to other social services and health care agencies such as drug and alcohol treatment centres for those who want to stop using drugs, as well as doctors, hospitals, social workers housing and welfare support agencies, legal aid, etc.

Because Counterpoint provides people with information on how to use drugs safely, the assumption is often made that the program, and/or those who run it, see drug use as acceptable. This is incorrect. Needle & Syringe Programs see drug use as an accepted fact as opposed to "acceptable".

Whether or not injection drug use, or any drug use, is "acceptable" is a moral judgment. Such judgments are of little or no value in health promotion or in developing effective educational strategies that result in behaviour change. The simple fact is that some individuals are, for whatever reasons, injecting drugs and that some methods of injection drug use put people at a high risk of contracting HIV, hepatitis C and other blood-borne infections.

How do I dispose of needles or sharps?

For information on how to dispose of needles or sharps, visit our Safe Needle Disposalpage.

What is harm reduction?

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health defines harm reduction as: Any program or policy designed to reduce drug-related harm without requiring the cessation of drug use. Interventions may be targeted at the individual, the family, community or society.

What is the HIV antibody test?

The HIV antibody test checks your blood to see if your immune system has produced HIV antibodies. If HIV antibodies are present, it means you have been infected with HIV, also known as seroconverting. Because HIV is a retrovirus, the antibodies are powerless in fighting off HIV, but their presence is enough to tell if you have HIV.

What will I know once I have been tested?

A positive test only tells you that you are HIV positive. It does not tell you how much virus is in your body, when you were infected, or whether or not you will get sick.

What does confidential mean?

Health units provide confidential HIV testing.

You do not need to bring a health card to be seen at the health unit, but you must give your name. Your test results stay between you and your nurse. Your results are reported to the public health database. This reporting is what allows you to get a doctor experienced in providing HIV care, the next step in keeping yourself healthy for a long time.

They will do a blood draw and send it to a laboratory. It takes approximately two weeks to get the result back.

What does anonymous mean?

You do not have to give your name or provide any identification. The Options Clinicprovides anonymous point-of-care testing.

What is anonymous point-of-care testing?

You don’t need to bring your health card. It is completely anonymous, and you do not even have to give your real name. The rapid point-of-care test takes about 20 minutes, and is done by pricking your finger and drawing a small amount of blood.

If the rapid point-of-care test is reactive or, in other words, shows a positive result, Options will do a blood draw and send it off to the laboratory to confirm the result. Waiting for the result takes approximately two weeks.

Am I going to die?

Unlike 20 years ago, HIV is now a manageable virus. HIV+ people can and do live full, active and long lives.

How long will it be until I get sick?

Each HIV+ person's journey with HIV is unique. It is important to know the majority of HIV+ people who get sick also get better again.

Will my family get HIV from me?

HIV cannot be transmitted by daily casual activity.

Can I still work?

Yes! With current treatments, doctors say most people living with HIV/AIDS will live long and productive lives.

Who do I have to tell?

You don’t have to tell anyone your HIV status unless you’re participating in activities that may put others at risk. There are some things you need to know about the law and disclosing your HIV+ status if you’re having sex or sharing drug equipment.

Can I still have sex?

Yes! HIV+ people are capable of and entitled to full and healthy sex lives. There are some things you need to know about the law and disclosing your HIV+ status if you’re having sex.

Can I have children?

Yes! There have been many advances in medical science and the understanding of HIV. It is absolutely possible for HIV+ people to have children without your kids’ getting HIV.

Do I have to take medication?

Not necessarily. Your HIV specialist will help you make an informed decision about when it might be necessary to start taking medications.

If I’m HIV+ does this mean I have AIDS?

No, it does not. Many people living with HIV never develop AIDS.