WHAT IS HIV/AIDS and STBBIs?
HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. This virus attacks the body’s immune system, which weakens the body’s ability to fight off other infections and illnesses.
AIDS stands for Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome. HIV develops into AIDS when the immune system can no longer defend the body from infections, diseases, and/or cancers.
STBBIs stands for sexually transmitted blood borne infections. These include Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, and syphilis. Please see our other documents on these specific STBBIs for more information.
HOW IS HIV TRANSMITTED?
HIV is passed when the body fluids of an infected person (blood, semen, pre-cum, vaginal secretions, breast milk) enters the bloodstream of another individual. Examples of ways that someone could become infected with HIV include the following:
- having vaginal or anal sex with someone who has HIV without using a condom
- having oral sex with someone who has HIV without using a condom or a dental dam
- sharing sex toys that have not been cleaned properly with someone who has HIV
- taking part in any other activities that include contact with infected blood, semen, pre-cum, or vaginal fluid
- sharing needles or other drug equipment such as water, cookers, or crack pipes
- sharing needles or ink to get a tattoo
- sharing needles or jewelry to get a body piercing
- receiving a tattoo and/or piercing from an unclean, unprofessional, or irreputable tattoo/piercing parlor (always check for blood pathogen certificate)
- sharing acupuncture needles
- using household items such as toothbrushes and razors that have touched infected blood
- transmission from parent to child during pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding
HIV cannot be passed on through mosquito bites, and it cannot be transmitted through saliva, sweat, tears, urine, or feces of infected individuals, unless blood is present.
Since November 1985, all blood products in Canada are checked for HIV. Your risk of becoming infected with HIV through a blood transfusion is extremely low.
Someone cannot become infected with AIDS. A person must have HIV first, which may later develop into AIDS. In other words, AIDS is a condition that can be caused by HIV.
Are you curious about your risk levels for being exposed to HIV? Check out the CDC Risk Estimator!
HOW WOULD I KNOW I HAD IT?
Some infected individuals may develop mild flu-like symptoms 2 to 4 weeks after exposure. These symptoms may last a few weeks and then disappear.
Most people who are infected with HIV will not develop symptoms until years after exposure. These symptoms may include the following:
- frequent fevers or sweats
- joint or muscle pain
- persistent skin rashes
- swollen glands
- sore throat
- fatigue or lack of energy
- rapid, unexplained weight loss
- nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF AND YOUR PARTNER
- Use condoms during vaginal/penile or anal sex
- Use condoms or dental dams during oral sex
- Use condoms on shared sex toys
- Never share any form of used needles, jewelry, drug paraphernalia, tattoo ink, razors, toothbrushes, or any other item that comes in contact with blood and/or bodily fluids
- Research your chosen tattoo and piercing parlors and be aware of their cleanliness and sterilization policies
- Make an appointment to be tested for HIV/AIDS and get screened regularly
- Make an appointment to talk to your doctor about methods of preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS from parent to child during childbirth
TESTING AND WHEN TO GET TESTED
- There is a blood test available that can tell you if you are infected with HIV. This test measures HIV antibodies – not the actual virus.
- It may take up to 3.5 months for an infection to become detectable. For this reason, we recommend that a person waits 14 weeks after potential exposure to get the blood test.
- Anyone who is at high risk and tests negative after the initial 14 week waittime should retest 3 months later for increased accuracy.
TYPES OF TESTING WE OFFER:
- Anonymous HIV testing.
HIV testing is the only test that can be anonymous. NO medical coverage or health card is necessary. We only need a first name, and it can be fake. No client details are placed in an electronic or paper chart. The test is ordered using a number system (code) to identify your blood. Our nurse taking your blood will be able to link the number with your identity (i.e. what ever name you choose to give us). They will not pass any of your information onto anyone else.
- Non-nominal Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and syphilis testing.
With these tests, your health card and personal information are required. These STBBIs are considered “reportable” to the Nova Scotia Health Authority, which means they track infection rates and follow up.They will inform previous partners if they are at risk of infection,if you are uncomfortable doing it.They will not share any identifying information with the contact.
Your blood is drawn and sent to the lab under a code which is known only by the nurse. When the test results are back from the lab, they are matched and then transferred to your electronic chart.
- Hepatitis A/B vaccines are available for free for certain at-risk clients (such as IV drug users) after an assessment by one of our nurses, who are specially trained to support you during your visit. Feel free to ask us any questions if you’d still like a vaccine but do not feel that you are a part of an at-risk group. There is currently no vaccine for Hepatitis C.
The difference between non-nominal and anonymous testing can be confusing! Please feel free to ask us any questions you may have about the testing process.
WHAT TO EXPECT FROM YOUR APPOINTMENT AT HSHC
To ensure clients receive appropriate pre-test counselling, each visit will take between 15-30 minutes, depending on the client’s concerns and needs. The visit will start with an explanation of how the anonymous/non-nominal testing program works. Clients will be reassured that they are in a safe and confidential environment.
The nurse will use an intake form to record a history, including questions like
- “How often do you use condoms?”
- “How many sexual partners have you had in the past year?”
- “Do you use IV drugs?”, etc.
They will then decide on the best testing option for you.
Clients are encouraged to ask questions and seek clarification about risk factors and risk behaviours.
The blood test results are back within a few days, helping to minimize client’s anxiety while waiting for results.
For STBBI testing, getting your results is easy! Typically, no news is good news! If your results are unclear or positive, one of our nurses will call you to book an appointment to discuss your results.
For anonymous HIV testing:
You will be asked to come back in a week to get your results. Results cannot be given over the phone and we have no way to contact you because the test is anonymous,unless you come in for your results. It is also very important that you bring back your HIV code number (given to you when you had the blood test) so that the HIV Clinic Coordinator can give you the correct results. If you don’t have the number,they will have to repeat the test by taking blood again.
HOW IS IT TREATED?
- HIV cannot be cured, but it can be managed so that the virus grows more slowly and doesn’t damage the immune system as quickly. There are now many drugs to treat HIV infection and help someone who is HIV-positive to maintain their health. These drugs are called anti-retroviral and protease inhibitors. A combination of these drugs is referred to as a drug cocktail. Many people also get an antibiotic, which prevents pneumonia.
- Individuals infected with HIV should also try to make healthy lifestyle choices to help strengthen their immune system. This may include eating healthy foods, minimizing stress, not smoking cigarettes, not drinking too much alcohol, and not using illegal drugs.
- Managing the infection is a lifelong commitment.
- If you test positive for HIV, we will strongly recommend that you visit an Infectious Disease Specialist at the QEII Health Sciences Centre. However, it is your choice whether or not you want to do this. We will not pass on your information to the hospital, to the Nova Scotia Health Authority, or to anyone else, unless you ask us to.
IF IT ISN’T TREATED, CAN IT LEAD TO MORE SERIOUS PROBLEMS?
- Yes. Untreated HIV causes too much damage to the immune system, it will develop into AIDS. A person who has AIDS will start developing illnesses that are very hard to get rid of such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, or cancer. If the illnesses becomes too severe, it may result in death.
HOW TO BOOK AND PREPARE FOR YOUR APPOINTMENT
BOOKING AN APPOINTMENT
Booking an appointment with us is easy! Give us a call at 902.455.9656 ext. 0. You will be speaking with either a volunteer or an medical administrator. We cannot book appointments over email or Facebook. You cannot book an appointment for someone else, even if they are your partner or child. We will need to speak with them directly.
To book for STBBI testing, we will need a first name (it can be fake!), and a phone number (in case we need to cancel your appointment unexpectedly, such as the nurse is ill, or the clinic is closed due to bad weather). You may opt out of leaving a phone number if you would prefer to call the clinic on the day of your appointment to confirm. That’s it! The person on the phone will outline anything you need to know to prepare for your appointment. Waitlists for STBBI testing can vary.
A health card is not necessary for HIV testing, because it is anonymous. A health card is necessary for other STBBI testing, because it is non-nominal, but not anonymous.
Are you a youth? You do not need parental consent for any of our appointments.
Don’t have access to or lost your health card? You are entitled to your health card information! Call MSI toll-free at 1-800-563-8880 (in Nova Scotia) or at 902-496-7008 from Monday-Friday 8am-5pm. We require the number and the expiry date. Another tip: take a picture of your card! You will never lose it again!
- You need to eat something and drink lots of water before coming to your appointment, other than that, there is no prep required for this blood test.