HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is a virus that attacks the immune system. If left untreated, HIV can lead to AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). AIDS is a set of symptoms, not a virus. When someone has AIDS their immune system is too weak to fight off infections.

HIV is spread through five bodily fluids including: blood, semen, vaginal fluids, rectal fluids and breast milk.

Common behaviours and conditions that can put you at greater risk for getting HIV include:

  • Having vaginal or anal sex with an infected person without a condom
  • Sharing drug equipment with an infected person (e.g. needles, syringes, cookers, spoons and filters)
  • An infected mother can pass the virus to her child during pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding

You cannot spread HIV through:

  • Sweat, spit, clothes, phones, toilet seats or drinking fountains
  • By touching someone with HIV
  • Mosquitos or other insects that have come in contact with infected blood

You cannot develop AIDS unless you have HIV. You can reduce your risk of developing AIDS by beginning treatment.


Since AIDS is the final stage of HIV, people experience different symptoms.


Some people experience mild flu-like symptoms two to four weeks after getting HIV. Common early symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Sore throat
  • Headache
  • Muscle sores
  • Joint  and muscle pain
  • Swollen glands
  • Tiredness

Some people with HIV feel no symptoms for five to ten years. Someone who does not experience symptoms can still pass HIV on to others.


If left untreated, the symptoms of HIV will progress into AIDS. Symptoms of AIDS include:

  • Pneumonia (lung infection)
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Long-term diarrhea
  • Viral infections (e.g. shingles)
  • Fungal infections (e.g. yeast infection)
  • Tumours on the skin
You can reduce your chances of developing HIV by:
  • Using a condom or dental damn every time you have sex
  • Get tested regularly
  • Do not share needles or other drug equipment (cotton, spoons, water)
  • Do not share sex toys
  • Ensure acupuncture, tattoo, piercing and aesthetic establishments use clean equipment

To detect HIV, a blood test is used. Someone with HIV could test negative as the virus can take up six weeks to three months to show up in the blood. This is known as the "window period." A negative test during the window period should be repeated after three months.

It is important to detect HIV as soon as possible so it can be treated and will not progress to AIDS.

Public Health offers HIV testing at our Sexual Health Clinics

There are treatment options to prevent progression to AIDS and those infected now live near normal lifespans. 
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