HIV and AIDS: Symptoms and treatment
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a virus that attacks the body's immune system. While HIV is a manageable chronic condition, if left untreated, it can cause a weakened immune system or acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS).
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Symptoms of HIV infection
Some people may not develop any symptoms after contracting HIV and could remain undiagnosed until the symptoms of AIDS appear. This could be up to 10 years later.
However, 50% or more of people living with HIV may develop mild flu-like symptoms within 2 to 4 weeks. Early symptoms may include:
- joint pain
- sore throat
- muscle aches
- swollen glands (lymph nodes)
The symptoms of HIV infection may last from a few days to weeks. They may go away on their own.
Misdiagnosis of early HIV infection is common. If you think you have HIV, speak with your health care provider about being tested.
HIV can be diagnosed using a blood test. Some tests may not be able to detect the virus during the first 2 to 4 weeks of HIV infection. However, you can still pass the virus to others during this highly infectious stage.
Your health care provider may ask you to repeat the test if it's negative and there's a possibility you have HIV.
HIV testing sites across Canada offer different services and testing options. Some sites offer:
- anonymous testing
- only you'll know the results of the test
- your name or other identifying information won't be collected
- rapid HIV testing (point of care or self-testing)
- you'll get your test result almost immediately
- a positive result should be confirmed with further testing performed by a healthcare provider
- online testing
- you'll get your laboratory form and receive your results in person
For more information on:
- services available in your area, contact your local public health department or HIV testing site
- testing technologies, refer to CATIE's website
When you request a test for HIV:
- ask to be tested for other infections, such as:
- follow up after your test to learn:
- your test results
- any treatment you might need
- how you can access ongoing care and support services
Highly effective treatments are available to manage HIV infection.
Starting treatment early for HIV can help you live a healthy life.
If you have HIV, you can be treated with antiretroviral medications as part of antiretroviral therapy (ART). These medications help:
- lower the level of HIV in your body (suppress your viral load)
- slow the spread of the virus in your body
- help your immune system fight off other infections
HIV treatment improves the health of people living with HIV and can prevent HIV transmission.
Changing attitudes about HIV
When someone is diagnosed with HIV, other people may have negative attitudes and beliefs about that person's behaviour, lifestyle or circumstances in life. These negative associations form what's called stigma, an experience that can decrease quality of life because it includes:
These types of reactions to those living with HIV are based on misinformation about the infection. Stigma remains one of the greatest barriers for Canadians in accessing:
- HIV prevention
Efforts to end stigma will help to:
- prevent new infections
- reach the undiagnosed
- ensure that people living with HIV receive the care, treatment and support they need
What you can do to reduce stigma
You can help reduce stigma by being respectful, compassionate and non-judgemental. Model this behaviour for others when you witness stigmatizing behaviours.
When talking about HIV, certain terms can be stigmatizing. Be thoughtful about the words you use when discussing the topic.
Learn more about the facts of HIV. Treatment can lower (suppress) the amount of virus in a person's blood (viral load) to a level that's too low to be measured on a standard blood test. This means it's undetectable.
People living with HIV on treatment who maintain an undetectable viral load have effectively no risk of transmitting HIV to their sexual partners.
Knowing and sharing these facts widely can help to reduce stigma. Share our Undetectable = Untransmittable (U = U) infographic to help us raise awareness.
In addition, HIV is not transmitted through:
- healthy, unbroken skin
- casual contact, such as:
- toilet seats
- sharing food
- shaking hands
- mosquito bites
What U = U means to those living with HIV
Access more personal stories about living with HIV through our video series on reducing HIV stigma.
The HIV411.ca/HCV411.ca website has a search function to help people find testing sites and HIV organizations in their area. The site can also connect people to counselling and other HIV services.
Dee's journey living with HIV and finding support
- Awareness resources for HIV and AIDS
- Canada's Minister of Health calls for end to stigma on World AIDS Day 2018
- U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Guide to Talking about HIV (PDF)
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