Get the basics about the HIV virus, including what it is, how it is transmitted and treatment options.

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a virus that targets the body’s immune system. It is passed through blood and body fluids such as semen, pre-ejaculate, vaginal fluids, anal fluids and breast/chest milk. HIV can be managed with antiviral medications. People who are living with HIV can live a long and healthy life with effective HIV treatment.

AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome and occurs when the immune system has been severely weakened by HIV. Having HIV does not mean having AIDS. If HIV is treated early on, severe complications including developing AIDs is far less likely. Even without treatment, it takes a long time for HIV to progress into AIDs (10-12 years).

HIV treatment

HIV is managed with prescription viral suppression medications called Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy (HAART). Taking medication has become much easier over the past few years. New treatments include two or three medicines combined in one pill. Many people living with HIV are treated with just one or two pills a day. Consistent treatment enables many who are living with HIV to maintain a healthy, long life.

U=U: Undetectable = Untransmittable

HIV treatment is very effective and can bring levels of the virus in the blood to zero (undetectable). A person with an undetectable viral load cannot pass HIV to their sexual partners.

The Undetectable = Untransmittable (U=U) campaign is a global community of HIV advocates, activists, researchers and community partners promoting the fact that people living with HIV who are on effective treatment do not sexually pass HIV. The U=U campaign is supported by over 500 organizations worldwide, including the BC Centre for Disease Control, the US Centers for Disease Control, the Canadian AIDS Society and the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS.

HIV prevention

To help prevent getting HIV, you can:

  • use condoms
  • consider pre exposure prophylaxis (PrEP)
  • consider post exposure prophylaxis (PEP)
  • if you use drugs, do not share drug equipment such as needles or straws
  • use new drug equipment every time you use drugs
  • get tested for other STIs, because they can increase your chance of getting (or passing) HIV

It is a good idea to regularly test for STIs, especially if you have new sexual partners often or open relationships. Talking with partners about safer sex makes sure everyone knows what to expect. Condoms are great if they work for you – the correct use of condoms reduces your chances of acquiring or passing HIV.