HIV is one of the sexually transmitted and blood-borne infections (STBBI). In the collective universe, there is sometimes confusion between HIV and AIDS. HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. A person living with HIV is said to be HIV-positive, as opposed to HIV-negative, i.e. someone who has not contracted the virus. HIV is the virus that causes AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome).

HIV attacks white blood cells, weakening the immune system. The majority of infected people will show no symptoms of infection, and may live for several years without feeling the impact of HIV. This phase of the infection is called asymptomatic (no symptoms). Subsequently, the main symptoms of a weakened immune system may include swollen lymph nodes, night sweats, fever, diarrhea, weight loss and extreme fatigue. AIDS is the final stage of the infection when left untreated. The HIV-positive person can contract serious opportunistic diseases and endanger his or her overall health. It is these opportunistic diseases, such as cancer, pneumonia, etc., that kill, not AIDS. 

The only way to find out if you're infected is to get tested. There is no cure for HIV/AIDS BUT there is a treatment, tritherapy, which enables a person living with HIV to enjoy a high quality of life (fulfilling sex life, starting a family, working, etc.) and an average life expectancy.

UNAIDS estimates that 38.4 million people worldwide are living with HIV (PLHIV), including 1.5 million new infections by 2021. According to estimates by the Public Health Agency of Canada, 62,790 peoples were living with HIV (including AIDS) in Canada at the end of 2020. Of these, nearly 13% were unaware of having contracted HIV. In Quebec, there were 646 new infections in 2019.

HIV is transmitted from an HIV-positive person when one or more of the HIV-transmitting fluids (blood, semen, pre-ejaculatory fluid, vaginal secretions, anal secretions or breast milk) comes into contact with the blood of another person via a portal of entry (lesion, microlesion or cut).

HIV-positive person not on treatment + Transmitting liquid + Entry point = Transmission


A rule to follow : Protecting yourself = Protecting your own health. Having condoms, lubricants and consumables of your own on hand will reduce your risk of contracting HIV.

Risky behavior  Contraception Details 
Vaginal and anal penetrations  Use a condom AT ALL TIMES  The condom (male or female) is the only safe contraceptive against HIV transmission, if worn correctly and consistently. Before using a condom, check the expiry date and the condition of the packaging. If it's damaged, if there's no air left inside, or if it's torn, throw it away and get a new one. Also, to improve comfort and prevent the condom from tearing, use a water-based lubricant. Use a condom only once and with only one partner. If you'd like to find out more or get free condoms, please visit us! 
Oral sex (cunnilingus, fellatio or anilingus) Use a condom or dental dam (square latex) AT ALL TIMES  Use a flavor condom for a better experience. You can also make your own dental dam with a flavor condom cut lengthwise at both ends. 
Injectable drugs AT ALL TIMES, use a new syringe and your own injection equipment.  Blood on this equipment could be infected. Never share your syringe, spoon or injection pad. You can obtain sterilized and safe equipment free of charge by visiting us. 
Tattoos and piercings  New and sterile equipment for every customer  Make sure your tattoo artist or piercer uses new, sterile equipment for each client. The tattoo needle, device and ink can be infected, as can the piercing needle. Make sure your tattooist/piercer opens the needle in front of you and throws it away after use. Also make sure he uses individual ink pots and that these are disposed of after your visit.
Sharing sexual objects Personal sexual objects or condoms. A sex object must not be lent or borrowed. If you and your new partner use the same sex object, cover it with a condom and change it when it's your turn, or use only one object per partner.


The PrEP

Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is the continuous or intermittent use of antiretrovirals (HIV treatment) by HIV-negative people at risk of contracting HIV. PrEP can reduce the number of new infections if there is strict adherence to the medication and regular medical follow-up.


Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) is used as a means of preventing HIV transmission when a person has been exposed to the virus either in a professional context, during a sexual relationship, when sharing consuming equipment or during a sexual assault. Administered within 72 hours or less of exposure, the drug prevents the virus from replicating in the cells of the immune system, and thus from developing a permanent infection. In the event of contact with HIV, you should go to the hospital emergency room as soon as possible, so that a professional can assess the risk of transmission.

Are you living with HIV, or have you just found out you're HIV-positive? The BRAS support and community life team is there for you!


The impact of HIV/AIDS

The realities of HIV are not always tangible, but have a major impact on both physical and psychological health. In terms of physical health, as soon as a person is diagnosed with HIV, he or she must begin a treatment called tritherapy, and make sure to:

  • Take your medication daily;
  • Adopt a healthy lifestyle, i.e. exercise, eat a healthy diet, reduce or eliminate cigarette/drug/alcohol consumption and get enough sleep;
  • Be regularly monitored by your doctor;
  • Managing the side effects of medication (which vary from person to person and tend to diminish over time).

In addition to the physical impacts and after-effects of infection, HIV also affects people's psychological health and their sexual, emotional, social and professional lives. Here are just a few examples of the impact of HIV:

  • PLHIV have to deal with various feelings :  sadness, shame, guilt and the fear of transmitting the infection;
  • The risk of depression, anxiety and even suicide is higher among PLHIV than among the general population;
  • PLHIV may tend to isolate themselves and reduce their social contacts;
  • The question of disclosure (to whom and how) is a major concern;
  • Stigma and discrimination are an important part of today's fight against HIV. HIV-positive people are unfairly singled out for special judgment and treatment. Negative attitudes and external judgments affect the well-being of PLHIV. This stigmatization raises issues at various levels: on a personal level, access to the healthcare system, education and the job market.


Hopeful advances

With the arrival of the first effective treatments, HIV went from being a fatal disease to a chronic one, enabling sufferers to live many years with the infection. Since then, PLHIV have been able to lead active lives, women have been able to give birth to HIV-negative children, and the life expectancy of a PLHIV on treatment is similar to that of an HIV-negative person.

  • Undetectable = Untransmissible (U=U)
  • Undetectable = The viral load, which means the amount of virus in the blood, is at a very low level
  • Untransmissible = When the viral load is undetectable, the virus cannot be transmitted.

A PLHIV on treatment no longer transmits HIV.

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