HIV Infection: Risk Factors And Prevention Of Transmission
What is AIDS?
HIV is the virus that causes AIDS. With time, HIV infection weakens your ability to fight off serious infections and some cancers. When this happens, HIV infection becomes AIDS. AIDS is a life-threatening but preventable disease.
Who is at risk?
If you are infected with HIV, you can pass the virus to other people even when you may have no signs of illness. The virus has been found in blood and vaginal and sexual secretions, such as semen. It can be spread by contact with your blood, and it can be spread sexually during foreplay and vaginal, oral, or anal intercourse. Having anal intercourse or sex with numerous partners especially increase the risk of getting AIDS. People close to you, such as friends, family members, and roommates, do not have a higher risk as long as they do not have sexual contact with you or contact with your blood.
HIV can also spread to babies born to a mother infected with HIV. Babies may also get infected if they have breast milk from a mother who is infected.
IV drug users and people receiving blood transfusions can be exposed to the virus through infected blood. However, in North America the risk of getting HIV from blood transfusions has become much lower since testing of donated blood for the virus began in the mid 1980s.
The following groups are at high risk getting infected with HIV:
· Sexually active homosexual men
· Men who have sex with both men and women
· Heterosexual woman whose partner has sex with more than one partner or with men
· People who share needles (for IV drug use, tattooing, or piercing)
· Babies born to or breast-fed by HIV-infected mothers
· People given transfusions of blood or blood products in countries where the blood is not tested for HIV
· had a blood transfusion or received other blood products before November 1986
· had sex while under the influence of alcohol or drugs (you might not have used protection)
· had sex – especially anal or vaginal intercourse – without using a latex or polyurethane condom or other protective barrier
· Tested positive for another sexually transmitted and blood-borne infection (e.g. syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, etc.)
· People who have sex with an HIV infected partner or with anyone in the above groups if they do not always use a latex or polyurethane condom
Who should be tested for HIV?
You should be tested for HIV if:
· You are or were in a high risk group (listed above).
· You have ever had unprotected sex and have not been tested.
· You are or plan to become pregnant.
It is especially important to be tested if you are or plan to get pregnant so you can keep the baby from getting infected. It’s best to be tested before pregnancy, but getting tested during pregnancy is better than not being tested at all. If you are HIV positive, treatment is available to help protect the baby from infection during pregnancy and delivery.
The Public Health Agency of Canada advises to be tested for HIV if you or your partner(s) in the high risk groups listed above.
Where can I get the test?
Ask your primary care provider for an HIV test or ask where you can get the test in your community. Many community health centers, family planning clinics, hospitals, STD clinics, and county health departments offer testing. For information on anonymous and confidential testing in Nova Scotia call toll-free the Nova Scotia AIDS hotline at 1-800-566-2437 and in Prince Edward Island call 1-800-314-2437. Do not use donating blood as a way of being tested.
What do the test results mean?
In general, a positive HIV test means that you are infected with HIV, and a negative test means that you are not infected with HIV. It is possible to have a negative test if you have been just recently infected. In this case, the test will be positive if it is repeated several weeks or months later. If you have a negative test result but you are at high risk for infection, you may need to have another test in 3 to 6 months. If you are or were at high risk, however, you should talk to your primary care provider about how often you should be retested. Also ask if it is possible to lower your risk.
If there are questions about your test results, your primary care provider will tell you how soon you should be retested and what precautions you should take in the meantime.
How can I prevent giving HIV to others?
If you are infected with HIV, you should take these precautions to avoid spreading the virus to others:
· Avoid high-risk activities, such as unprotected sex and sharing needles. This is the best way to prevent spread of the virus.
· If you are sexually active, always practice safe sex. Don’t expose others to blood and sexual secretions during sex. This means:
· Use a latex or polyurethane condom every time you have vaginal, oral, or anal intercourse. Be sure to use a condom during foreplay as well.
· Avoid getting semen, other sexual secretions (such as vaginal secretions), or blood in cuts or in the eyes of your partners.
· Do not use a spermicide containing nonoxynol 9 and do not use condoms coated with this spermicide. Research has found that this chemical can irritate the lining of the vagina and rectum. These irritated areas make it easier for HIV to enter the body.
· If you use a lubricant during sex, use one that is water based. Do not use oil-based lubricants made with petroleum jelly, mineral oil, vegetable oil, or cold cream. They can damage the condom.
· Do not donate blood, plasma, or semen.
· Do not plan to donate organs from your body. If you were previously planning to donate organs, have that statement removed from your driver’s license.
· Do not share or reuse IV needles and syringes. Do not self-inject drugs unless directed to do so by your primary care provider. Do not share needles for tattooing or body piercing. Boiling does not guarantee sterility of needles or syringes.
· Do not use nitrate inhalants (poppers).
· Do not share razors, toothbrushes, or anything that could be contaminated with blood.
· Tell your primary care providers that you are HIV positive.
· If you are a woman, discuss pregnancy with your primary care provider before you get pregnant. HIV may be spread to a baby during pregnancy, birth, or breast-feeding. There is medicine you can take during pregnancy to make it less likely that the baby will be infected.
How can I practice safe sex by using condoms?
· Use a latex or polyurethane condom every time you have any type of intercourse or any other intimate genital activity.
· Put the condom on after the penis is erect but before it (the penis) touches your partner.
· Put the condom on the head of the penis and unroll or pull it all the way to the base of the penis.
· Leave an empty space at the end of the condom to collect semen. Remove any air remaining in the tip of the condom by gently pressing the air out toward the base of the penis.
· If you use a lubricant, use one that is water based. Do not use oilbased lubricants made with petroleum jelly, mineral oil, vegetable oil, or cold cream. They can damage the condom. Do not use a lubricant that has spermicide containing nonoxynol 9.
· After ejaculation, carefully withdraw the penis while it is still erect. Hold onto the rim of the condom as you withdraw so the condom doesn’t slip off.
· Store condoms in a cool, dark, dry place.
· If a condom appears sticky, brittle, discolored, or obviously damaged, don’t use it.
· Use each condom only once.
Where can I get more information?
For more information about HIV and AIDS, contact your primary care provider or
The AIDS Coalition of Nova Scotia at (902) 425 4882 or toll-free at 1 (800) 566 2437, or visit their website at http://www.acns.ns.ca/
AIDS PEI: http://www.aidspei.com/
The Public Health Agency of Canada website at: http://www.phacaspc.gc.ca/aidssida/indexeng.php