Living@Guelph - Choose Your Own Adventure Living
HIV: Know the Risks
By Sue Rosebush, revised by M. Kaay,
AIDS Committee of Guelph & Wellington County

Did you know:
  • Internationally, almost half of all new cases of HIV are in young people between 15 and 24 and women account for 50% of HIV positive individuals
  • In Canada, in 2001 women between the ages of 15-29 years accounted for 44.5% of positive test results
  • Up to 1/3 of positively infected individuals are unaware of their status- this primarily relates to two very important issues which are: knowledge of risk factors for transmission; and the need for people to have access to testing.
  • There has been an increase in the number of infections among men who sleep with men (MSM's) and heterosexual men
  • Young men who use steroids are getting infected with HIV, by sharing the vial with other steroid users.
  • The life expectancy for someone who is newly infected with HIV today is approximately 18 years!
  • The chance of transmission for a pregnant woman who is HIV+ to her baby is between 2-6% in Canada.

    How to reduce YOUR risk for HIV/AIDS:

  • Decide before you have your next sexual experience what activities will be okay for you.
  • Know the risks for transmission through blood and sexual activity.
  • Talk to your prospective partner about risks and comfort level with different activities.
  • If you use drugs or alcohol, try to remain sober enough to stick to your planned risk level.
  • Get tested! Go to the sexual health clinic to get an anonymous HIV test. Call 821-2730.
  • Call the AIDS Committee if you have any other questions! You can call anonymously from 9:00am-5:00pm Monday to Friday, 763-2255.

    Sexual Transmission, Relative Risks:
    HIGH RISK:
    -Anal sex without a condom
    -Vaginal sex without a condom
    -Sharing unsterilized sex toys
    LOW RISK:
    -Anal sex with a condom
    -Vaginal sex with a condom
    -Performing oral sex with no barrier

    All other sexual activities which do not involve breaks in the skin are theoretical risk or less (even if your female partner is menstruating). Theoretical risk includes things like kissing (if you exchange 7 gallons of saliva with an infected person) though these activities have never caused transmission of HIV.

    Remember: HIV/AIDS is an equal opportunity virus! It does not care what the gender is of the person you are having sex with. It is not who you are, but how you do it!

    Risk for HIV through needles (This is not just information for 'junkies'):

  • Make sure you use sterilized needles for tattooing, piercing, steroid use and shooting up.
  • If you share your stash, don't share your vial, spoon, cooker, syringe, filter, or water for cleaning.
  • Get clean works at any of the three needle exchange sites in town:
  • The AIDS Committee*: 2 Quebec Street, Suite No.206 (*until mid-October 2003. Contact office 837-1470 for new location).
  • Stonehenge Therapeutic Community: 60 Westwood Rd.
  • Sexual Health Clinic: 125 Delhi Street.

    What to do if you think you may just have been exposed to HIV:

  • Don't panic!
  • You may want to discuss your potential risk with someone at the AIDS Committee, a public health nurse, or your physician.
  • If possible, talk to the person who may have been the source of the exposure. Are they HIV+? Do they know? Are they concerned?
  • You must wait 12-14 weeks to get tested.

    HIV Antibody Testing
    This information is designed to help answer questions you may have if you are thinking about taking the test for the AIDS virus, the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) antibody test.

    This information is not a substitute for good counseling before and after you take the test. Before you decide to take the test, you may want to talk to someone who can answer your questions and concerns by contacting your local AIDS organization at 763-2255. Very often the decision to take the test can be stressful--one of the advantages to talking with people at the local AIDS organization, or a counselor, is that you have a chance to speak openly about your concerns and receive accurate information.

    Should I take the test?
    There is no easy answer to that question. For some people testing is important, because they are more comfortable with the certainty of knowing their HIV status (whether they are infected or not infected with HIV) than they are with the uncertainty of not knowing. They may also want to know their HIV status so that they can begin to take steps to remain healthy, should they find out that they are infected with HIV. Other people are more comfortable not knowing their HIV status. They do not want to deal with the possibility of being infected with HIV (HIV positive), so they decide not to be tested.

    Only you can decide if the time is right to get tested. To make that decision wisely, you need a clear understanding of what the test is and what the results mean. Then, there are some questions that only you can answer.

    No matter what you decide, abstaining from sex or practicing safer sex each time will ensure that you do not put yourself or anyone else at risk for HIV infection.

    About the HIV Antibody Test
    You may have heard this test referred to as an "AIDS test" or an "HIV test", but in fact it is a test for HIV antibodies.

    Antibodies are produced by the body as a reaction to infection with HIV. A sample of your blood is taken and sent to be tested for the presence of these antibodies. It usually takes about three weeks for the test results to come back. The results that you receive are extremely accurate.

    Since the test looks for antibodies (and not the actual virus), you need to wait until antibodies are made by your body. Antibodies can take up to 14 weeks to show up in your blood after the time of infection. So, for an accurate result, before being tested you must wait at least 12 weeks after you have had unsafe sex or shared needles.

    This period of time (from the time you are infected with HIV to the time when the antibodies appear in your blood) is often called the window period.

  • A confirmed positive test result means that you have been infected with HIV (you are HIV positive [HIV+]) and you can pass the virus on to others if you have unsafe sex or share needles. It does not mean that you have AIDS or that you will develop it; it does not tell you anything else about the state of your health.
  • A negative test result means that there were no HIV antibodies in your blood at the time of your test, and you were not infected with HIV (you are HIV negative [HIV-]). It does not mean that you are immune to the virus or that you cannot become infected in the future.

    What you can do if you test HIV positive
    In order to try and stay healthy, both physically and mentally, it is important to begin taking action as soon as possible.
    A health care provider who is knowledgeable about HIV can monitor your health and help you decide what treatments you want to use. If you don't know who to see, contact your local AIDS organization.

    Having safer sex all of the time is important for people who are HIV+. It is extremely important to protect yourself from re-infection with other strains of HIV -- or other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) which can further weaken your immune system.

    Before you test...
    Do you have reason to think you have been infected with HIV?
    HIV can pass from one person to another through anal or vaginal intercourse without a condom, sharing needles if you use injection drugs or steroids or sharing sex toys without cleaning them. It can pass from a mother to her child during child birth or through blood transfusions before screening of the blood supply began in late 1985. There have been a small number of people who became infected with HIV by performing oral sex (mouth to vagina or mouth on penis). You can be infected but show no symptoms for many years.

    Based on your personal history, good counseling before you take the test will help you to decide whether you should get tested. Ultimately, it is your choice whether or not to test.

    Do you have access to anonymous testing?
    Doctors and laboratories are required to report the names of people who test HIV positive to the Medical Officer of Health. The test result also appears on your medical record, which can be obtained by a variety of groups and individuals. There have been cases of discrimination in employment, housing, insurance and immigration because of these requirements - even with a negative test result.

    Anonymous testing uses a number or a code on your lab slip - not your name. Only you will know your test result, or even that you were tested. To find out the location of your nearest anonymous testing site, contact you local AIDS organization. In Guelph you can contact the AIDS Committee of Guelph & Wellington County at 763-2255. There are anonymous testing sites in Guelph--at the AIDS Committee, at the Sexual Health Clinic, and at Change Now.

    Can you get good counseling before and after the test?
    Before the test, you need someone to answer all your questions, and to make sure you know exactly what the test means, so that you can make an informed decision about whether or not to be tested. After the test, whether you test HIV positive or not, you need someone to help you be realistic about the results, and take effective steps to stay healthy.

    Are you going to be asked to take the test for employment or insurance reasons?
    If so, you might want to receive anonymous testing and counseling first, and, if the test result is positive, withdraw your application to protect your confidentiality.

    Are you emotionally ready to know the test results?
    It's normal to be concerned about the fear and anxiety you may feel if the test comes back positive. If you're unsure about testing, perhaps you may need more information or counseling, to help you deal with the issues of testing and the possibility of a positive test result. Contact your local AIDS organization to speak with someone.

    How can you access AIDS Committee Services?

  • Drop by, any time 9:00am-5:00 pm Mondays to Fridays at 2 Quebec Street Suite 206. (Just two blocks down the street from the Albion).
  • Call us at 763-2255.
  • E-mail us at acgwc@guelph.org or visit our web site: aids.guelph.org.
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