What is HIV?

What is HIV?

HIV is a virus, like the flu or cold. A virus is really nothing but a set of instructions for making new viruses, wrapped up in some fat, protein and sugar. Without living cells, a virus can’t do anything—it’s like a brain with no body. In order to make more viruses (and to do all of the other nasty things that viruses do), a virus has to infect a cell. HIV mostly infects CD4 cells, also known as T cells, or T-helpercells. These are white blood cells that coordinate the immune system to fight disease, much like the quarterback of a football team. Once inside the cell, HIV starts producing millions of little viruses, which eventually kill the cell and then go out to infect other cells. All of the drugs marketed to treat HIV work by interfering with this process.

How is HIV Transmitted?
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) was established as the cause of the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) in 1983. Ever since then, a lot of research has been hivconducted and a great deal of information has been generated regarding the ways HIV can be transmitted from one person to another.

The problem with much of the information about HIV transmission, especially on the Internet, is that it speaks in very general terms. All too often, advice from one site will directly contradict advice from another site as well. For example, some sources refer to oral sex as “risky,” whereas others say it is “low risk” or “no risk.” This can be very frustrating and it also leads to the spread of misinformation, and frequently a lot of unnecessary worry, about the transmission of HIV.

HIV enters the body through open cuts, sores, or breaks in the skin; through mucous membranes, such as those inside the anus or vagina; or through direct injection. There are several ways by which this can happen:

  • Sexual contact with an infected person.
  • Sharing needles, syringes, or other injection equipment (“rigs”) with someone who is infected.
  • Mother-to-child transmission. Babies born to HIV-positive women can be infected with the virus before or during birth, or through breastfeeding after birth.
  • Transmission in health care settings. Healthcare professionals have been infected with HIV in the workplace, usually after being stuck with needles or sharp objects containing HIV-infected blood.
  • Since the beginning of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, new or potentially unknown routes of transmission have been thoroughly investigated by National, provincial and local health departments. To date, no additional routes of transmission have been recorded, despite a national system designed to detect unusual cases.

Testing

Taking an HIV test can be a nerve-racking experience, but it’s very important to go through with it. Knowing your HIV status will help you to make the right decisions for your life. If you want to talk to someone about taking the test contact us and we’ll be happy to talk to you, go with you, or help you find the information you need.

Click here for more information on testing

Vancouver Island Persons Living With HIV/AIDS Society (VPWAS) 101 - 1139 Yates Street, Coast Salish Territories, Victoria, BC. V8V 3N2
Phone: 250.382.7927 | Fax: 250.382.3232 | Toll Free: 1.877.382.7927 | support@vpwas.org | www.vpwas.org |