Still have questions? We have some answers to frequently asked questions, and additional advice from guys living with HIV.
10 Frequently Asked Questions About HIV
1. What is the difference between HIV and AIDS?
HIV or Human Immunodeficiency Virus is a virus that attacks the immune system, the body’s defence system to prevent illness. AIDS or Autoimmune Deficiency Syndrome is the complete breakdown of the immune system caused by HIV if untreated OR if allowed to progress.
2. How does HIV affect the body?
Once HIV enters the body, the virus targets white blood cells in order to make copies of itself. In this process, the white blood cells are destroyed. White blood cells are part of the immune system and protect the body from diseases and infection. As HIV destroys these white blood cells, the body’s immune system is broken down making it difficult to protect itself from illness.
3. How is HIV passed from person to person?
In order for HIV to be passed from person to person, one of the five (5) bodily fluids that can carry HIV must be present as well as a way to get into the body. The five bodily fluids are blood, cum (including pre-cum), anal fluid, vaginal fluid, and breast/chest milk. HIV cannot be passed on through sweat or saliva. A point of entry is needed such as a mucous membrane, open wound, or injection site. HIV cannot survive on surfaces or in the air.
4. What can I do if I think I've been exposed to HIV?
If you believe you’ve been exposed to HIV, and it’s been within 72 hours since the potential contact, go to the nearest emergency room immediately. They may give you PEP or Post-Exposure Prophylaxis, a drug regimen taken daily for 28 days after exposure that can prevent HIV staying in your body.
5. Is there medication I can take to keep me from getting HIV?
PrEP or Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis is a pill that can be taken daily to prevent you from getting HIV. PrEP prevents HIV from entering white blood cells and making copies of itself so the virus can’t take hold in the body. If taken daily, PrEP is 92%-99% effective at reducing the risk of HIV infection. PrEP must be taken regularly or it will lose effectiveness.
6. What are the chances of getting HIV from condomless sex with someone living with HIV?
If someone is HIV-positive and on treatment with an undetectable viral load (<50 copies/mL), the odds that they can pass the virus to their sexual partners is 0, even when a condom is not used when fucking.
The chances of passing HIV to sexual partners however is very high (1 in 6) when they have acquired HIV in the last 12 weeks.
7. How is HIV treated?
HIV is treated with ART or Antiretroviral Therapy. ART is a combination of drugs to prevent HIV from making copies of itself to lower the amount of the virus in your blood. This is measured by viral load or copies of HIV per mL of blood. With successful treatment, most people can become undetectable. This means so little HIV is present in the blood that it would not be picked up by a standard HIV test (< 50 copies/ml). Current ART medications are very effective, have few side effects, and are easy to take.
8. Can I get HIV from someone who is HIV-positive and on treatment?
If someone is HIV-positive and on treatment with an undetectable viral load (<50 copies/mL), they cannot pass the virus to partners. Studies also show that if someone reaches a viral load of less than 200 copies/mL, they cannot pass the virus to partners.
9. Is there a vaccine or cure for HIV?
There is no vaccine or cure for HIV.
10. What is the life expectancy of people living with HIV in Canada?
Generally, the life expectancy of a 20 year-old who started treatment shortly after becoming HIV-positive in Canada is about 70 years. Life expectancy across all ages is 62 years for HIV-positive men and 64 years for HIV-positive women.
Advice From Guys Living with HIV
It’s okay to feel nervous about HIV. To help, we asked gay, bi, queer guys living with HIV in Toronto to share their perspectives and advice.
“It may seem scary and catastrophic at first, but know you are not alone. There is so much support out there with organizations like ACT.”
“Be ready to unlearn everything you were ever taught and you’ll know yourself better on this journey. I learned that spirituality is what saved me.”
“Be strong and everything will be alright! There is law protecting people, there are professional communities ready to help, and believe in science!”
“It’s gonna feel like the end of the world. And it’s gonna feel that way for a while. And that’s okay. When you are ready, get proactive. Get on meds as soon as you can. Research as much as you can. Be open with friends, they’ll surprise you. Search out other poz guys on social dating apps and talk to them. That helped me a lot. And also lead to some great encounters.”
“HIV is literally a blip on the radar of life and now you can live a long healthy life as if you were negative.”
“The thing that made the biggest different for me was education. The weeks after my diagnosis I adopted a new mission: to learn as much about HIV as I could. We have such a vast array of resources available through so many different media, and the advancements that the field of HIV care has seen since the epidemic first began are nothing short of monumental. I was also privileged to have a very knowledgeable and supportive health care team steer me through the first few weeks, and their knowledge, patience, and compassion were crucial in my journey. All of this gave me hope and taught me that the stigma and fear that surround HIV are rooted in ignorance. If we all are given the opportunity and take the time to learn, the stigma and fear–and the virus itself–could be a thing of the past.”
“Find support, please!! Especially with some of us, me included, who will talk and start with you! Your community is key!”
“It gets better. I think we also need to be kind to ourselves and not judge ourselves too harshly. I think we can self-stigmatize. I remember feeling sometimes that there was a big sign on my forehead that said “HIV positive” whenever I went out to the bars. But the reality no one knows, unless you tell them and often they don’t care or are able to talk about it. So just remember to be kind to yourself.”
“Take the time to learn, listen, and ask questions. If you are not happy with your health team, look for another–there are people at ACT and in our broader community who can put you in touch with the right teams.”
“Don’t trivialize it by saying it’s no longer a big deal in the 21st century. It’s important to stay vigilant about maintaining relatively good health, physically, mentally, and emotionally. At the same time, don’t catastrophize and surrender to the ‘victim script’ which can really hinder you from recognizing your true self. You just happen to live with the virus – don’t let it define who you are. Lastly, the stigma is real. Do whatever you can combat it.”