If you are having any symptoms or have any questions, please call 811 to speak with a registered nurse 24 hours a day.
What is HIV?
The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) attacks the body’s immune system. A healthy immune system is what keeps you from getting sick.
When HIV damages your immune system, you are more likely to get sick from bacteria, fungi, and viruses. It is also harder for your body to fight off these infections when you do get them, so you may have trouble getting better.
AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) is the term used when persons have advanced HIV disease. This increases your risk for infections and other serious HIV-associated conditions.
What are the symptoms of HIV syndrome?
When first infected with HIV, a person may not experience any symptoms. However, often a person will develop flu-like symptoms. These include:
- Swollen lymph nodes (lymph glands)
- Sore throat
As the disease progresses, symptoms may appear and/or get worse. This may take time. Some people who have HIV do not begin experiencing symptoms for up to 10 years. When symptoms do appear, they can include:
- Swollen lymph nodes (lymph glands)
- Shortness of breath
- Unintended weight loss
CAUSES & RISK FACTORS
HIV can only be passed from person to person through infectious body fluids, such as blood, semen and vaginal fluid.
Children born to mothers with HIV can also acquire HIV during pregnancy, delivery, and breastfeeding. However, this happens less often now. It can be prevented by giving medicines to the pregnant mother and to her newborn baby.
The most common ways HIV is passed are:
- By having unprotected (without using a condom) anal, vaginal or oral sex with a person who has HIV
- By sharing drug-use equipment (needles or syringes) for injecting drugs with a person who has HIV
A person is more at risk for HIV if they:
- Have multiple sex partners
- Have sex with a person who trades sex for money or other items
- Share needles using illegal injected drugs
- Exchange sex for drugs or money
- Have a sexually transmitted infection
- Currently have or did have a sexual partner with any of the above risk factors.
- Are a man who has sex with other men
DIAGNOSIS & TESTS
What should I do if I think I may be infected?
If you think you may be infected with HIV, contact your healthcare provider immediately. Even though there is no cure for the disease, early diagnosis and treatment with medicines can be started to slow the progression of the disease. Your healthcare provider will be able to give you more advice about how to take care of yourself if tests show that you have HIV.
Since most people who are infected with HIV appear healthy, a blood test for the virus is necessary to see who has the infection. People who have a positive blood test for HIV are called HIV-positive. Ask your healthcare provider how to obtain confidential testing for HIV. Your healthcare provider can help you understand what the test results mean.
The Public Health Agency of Canada encourages all sexually active people get tested, ideally as part of your regular check-ups. Pregnant women can also be tested for HIV. Anyone who engages in risky behaviour should be tested. You should get tested no later than three months after the first time you engaged in risky behaviour. It takes this long for the antibodies to show up in the blood.
Does it help me to find out I have HIV at an early stage?
Yes. Right now, there is no cure for HIV. Your body can make antibodies and CD4 cells to slow down the progress of HIV, but they can’t totally get rid of the virus. In fact, the very act of attacking the HIV infection may wear out your immune system in a short time.
However, treatment with HIV medicines (usually a combination of medicines called anti‑retroviral drugs) can hold down the virus and keep your body’s immune system strong for a longer time. That’s why the Public Health Agency of Canada recommends early treatment of people who have HIV.
Should contact my healthcare provider?
Your healthcare provider is concerned about you, your health and your privacy. If you want to be tested for HIV, you should contact your healthcare provider. They will help you decide whether you should be tested and will give you the support you need before and after the test.
However, if you are afraid to talk with your healthcare provider about HIV or to be tested, there may be an option for anonymous HIV testing. Contact a local sexual health clinic or community organization for more information.
Remember, one negative test is not a guarantee that you don’t have HIV or won’t get it in the future. You should talk with your healthcare provider and learn about ways to protect yourself from getting infected.
How can I avoid getting HIV?
The best ways to protect yourself from getting infected with HIV are to:
The best way to prevent HIV is to not have sex (vaginal, anal, or oral) with a person who has HIV, or share a needle with a person who has HIV.
Other ways to prevent HIV include:
- When you have sex, practice “safer” sex by using a condom. The best condom is a male latex condom. A female condom is not as effective but does offer some protection.
- Do not share needles and syringes
According to CATIE (the Canadian AIDS Treatment Information Exchange):
Oral pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, is a way for an HIV-negative person who is at risk of HIV infection to reduce their risk of getting HIV by taking antiretroviral drugs. The daily use of oral PrEP is approved by Health Canada to reduce the risk of the sexual transmission of HIV for people at high risk of HIV infection. There is typically an assessment process to determine if PrEP is a good choice for you. Use of oral PrEP involves regular medical appointments for monitoring and support. It must be taken correctly to be effective. It is available by prescription in Canada.
Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) is a way to help prevent HIV from being transmitted to an HIV-negative person who may have been exposed to the virus. You must start PEP within 72 hours of being exposed. This is different from pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). If you think you need PEP, go to your nearest emergency department right away.
Even though there is no cure for HIV, there are many medicines available to help combat it. These medicines (called antiretroviral therapy or ART) will often prevent HIV from progressing to AIDS. Even when HIV does progress to AIDS, antiretroviral therapy is often still effective. However, it is most effective the earlier you begin treatment.
Better ART has changed HIV disease from the leading killer of young adults to a chronic disease that can be controlled for decades. However, even though you can take HIV medicines and feel okay, you could still give the virus to others through unsafe sex (without using a condom) or blood exchanges. The medicines don’t kill the virus — they just keep your immune system strong enough to prevent AIDS or slow it down.
Living with HIV
If you are living with HIV, you need to take very good care of yourself. Be sure to eat a balanced diet, exercise regularly, and get plenty of rest. Make sure you follow your healthcare provider’s instructions and take all of your medicines exactly as directed. You can also take steps to keep yourself from getting other infections or diseases that are more common in people who have HIV.
It is also important to see your healthcare provider regularly so that they can monitor your treatment. Your healthcare provider will probably want to see you every 6 months as long as your CD4 cell count is higher than 500. Your healthcare provider will probably want to see you every 3 months if your CD4 cell counts are below 500. However, if you take a new medicine, your healthcare provider will want to see you more often, to check your response to the medicine or to see if your HIV infection is getting worse.
Some of the things that might tell your healthcare provider that your HIV infection has gotten worse since your last visit are the following:
- New symptoms of nausea, vomiting, fatigue, fever, headache, chills, night sweats, cough, shortness of breath or diarrhea.
- Signs of weight loss, mouth sores (such as thrush, which is a yeast infection) or bigger lymph nodes (glands located in your neck, armpits and hip area).
- A drop in the CD4 cell count in your blood.
- A rise in the viral load in your blood.
HIV can increase your risk for other diseases and conditions because it weakens your immune system. Here are some things you can do to help protect yourself.
- A flu shot every fall helps prevent the flu.
- A periodic pneumonia shot can prevent pneumonia caused by the bacteria called Streptococcus pneumoniae. It’s easier for people who have HIV to get this kind of pneumonia. Your healthcare provider will review your immunization history to determine when you need to get these shots.
- A tuberculosis (TB) skin test every year can tell if you have TB. TB is a very serious illness, especially in people who have HIV.
- A Pap test for women to check for dysplasia (a pre-cancer condition) and for cancer of the cervix. Both of these conditions occur more often in women who have HIV infection.
All persons with HIV should also be tested for, and immunized against, hepatitis B.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
About harm reduction services in Nova Scotia
- Needle Distribution & Disposal (aka needle exchange) & Naloxone training, education, support:
- Mainline Needle Exchange, (902) 423-9991, Outreach (902) 830-3853; Toll-free 1-877-904-4555 http://mainlineneedleexchange.ca/#
- Northern Healthy Connections Society(902) 895-0931 902) 965-3965 (mobile) http://www.nhcsociety.ca/
- Sharp Advice Needle Exchange (ACCB) 902-539-5556 & Ally Centre of Cape Breton (ACCB) (902) 567-1766 )
- Opioid Treatment & Naloxone training
- Direction 180 https://direction180.ca/ (902) 420-0566
- ReFIX Overdose Prevention Site, located lower level Brunswick Street Mission, 2017 Brunswick Street, Mon to Sat, 9am to 2pm
HIV Testing in Nova Scotia
- You can request HIV testing from your primary care provider, or
- Contact 811 or https://811.novascotia.ca for information and referral or,
- Contact AIDS Coalition of Nova Scotia (902) 425-4882 https://www.acns.ns.ca/ for information and referral, or
- Go to nearest walk-in clinic, or,
- Visit your nearest hospital emergency department
- You can also contact any of these services:
- University-based health services:
- Dalhousie University – Student Health and Wellness Centre https://www.dal.ca/campus_life/health-and-wellness/services-support/student-health-and-wellness/services.html Appointments can be booked online or by phoning 902-494-2171
- St. Mary’s University – Student Health Service https://www.smu.ca/campus-life/the-student-health-services-clinic.html call 902.420.5611 to book an appointment Monday to Friday: 9 am – 12 pm and 1:00 pm – 4:00 pm
- Mount Saint Vincent University – Health and Wellness Services, Mount Health Office, 902-457-6354 https://www.msvu.ca/campus-life/health-wellness-services/health-office/
- Acadia University, Student Health Centre, https://www2.acadiau.ca/student-life/health-wellness/[email protected]
- Tel: 902.585.1238
- St. Francis Xavier University – (902) 867-2263 http://www2.mystfx.ca/health-and-counselling/ current student must register on-line for Health Myself before booking an appointment
- Cape Breton University – Campus Health Service; Call 902-563-1359 or email [email protected] https://www.cbu.ca/current-students/student-services/health-wellness/health-services-max-bell-health-centre/
- Halifax Sexual Health Centre (902) 455-9656 http://hshc.ca/
- STI and STD Clinic, QE11, Halifax (902) 473-2272 http://www.nshealth.ca/service-details/STI%20and%20STD%20Clinic Call between 1-3 pm to book evening appt between 5-8, Mon to Thurs.
- Ally Centre Primary Health Care Clinic – Ally Centre of Cape Breton (ACCB) Sydney (902) 567-1766 or (902) 567-1123 – anonymous HIV and confidential STBBI testing (Mon, Tues, Thurs) https://www.allycentreofcapebreton.com/services
- North End Community Health Centre 902.420.0303 https://nechc.com/
- Mobile Outreach Street Health, Halifax (902) 429-5290 Outreach Nursing Line (902) 802-3332 http://moshhalifax.ca/?page_id=39
- You can also visit HIV411.ca/HCV411.ca, to find HIV testing locations near you.
- University-based health services:
About HIV Treatment and Care in Nova Scotia
- Referrals to HIV treatment are made by health care provider after a positive result is confirmed by laboratory testing
- Contact the AIDS Coalition of Nova Scotia (902) 425-4882 https://www.acns.ns.ca/ for information, or
- Schedule an appointment with your primary care provider to discuss treatment and care options
Sexual health related services in Nova Scotia
- North Preston Community Health and Wellness Centre (Provides health care services and wellness programming for the communities of North Preston, East Preston, Cherry Brook and Lake Loon), 902-434-3807
- NS Brotherhood Initiative (free program for Black men to access health care to improve overall health and wellbeing. A team of health care professionals provide culturally appropriate primary medical care plus health and wellness services for men of African descent across Halifax Regional Municipality (for appointments or for general information 902-434-0824; [email protected]
- North End Community Health Centre, Halifax, 902.420.0303 https://nechc.com/
- Mobile Outreach Street Health (902) 429-5290 Outreach Nursing Line (902) 802-3332 http://moshhalifax.ca/?page_id=39
- prideHealth, NSHA – information & navigation supports for 2SLGBTQIA+ community prideHealth http://www.nshealth.ca/content/pridehealth 902-487-0470; [email protected]
- STI and STD Clinic, QE11, (902) 473-2272 http://www.nshealth.ca/service-details/STI%20and%20STD%20Clinic
- Sexual Health Nova Scotia
- six SHNS member-centres throughout the province that provide sexual health information, education, support, referral, and supplies. For information about your closest centre and services provided http://shns.ca/member-centres or call (902) 543-6900
- Halifax Sexual Health Centre (see above) also operates a sexual health clinic. (902) 455-9656 http://hshc.ca/
- AIDS Coalition of Nova Scotia (902) 425-4882 https://www.acns.ns.ca/
- Ally Centre of Cape Breton (902) 567-1766 https://www.allycentreofcapebreton.com/services
- Northern Healthy Connections Society (902) 895-0931 902) 965-3965 (mobile) http://www.nhcsociety.ca/
- Healing Our Nations (education information & support for Indigenous communities in Atlantic Canada) regional 1-800-565-425 or (902) 492-4255 http://hon93.ca/
- Local Public Health Services Office http://www.nshealth.ca/public-health-offices
- To find a local AIDS Service Organization (ASO): https://hiv411.ca/