Sexual Health

Algoma Public Health

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)

  • Facebook
  • Email

One quarter of people living with HIV in Canada are unaware that they have HIV.

What is it HIV?

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a sexually transmitted and blood-borne infection. It is caused by a virus that attacks and weakens a person’s immune system. Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) is a collection of symptoms, signs, and characteristics that occur once a person’s immune system has been substantially weakened by HIV infection. On average, it takes approximately 10 years to progress from initial HIV infection to AIDS.

How does HIV get passed from one person to another?

Only five body fluids can contain enough HIV to infect someone:

  • Blood
  • semen (including pre-cum)
  • rectal fluid
  • vaginal fluid
  • breast milk

HIV can only get passed when one of these fluids from a person with HIV gets into the bloodstream of another person—through broken skin, the opening of the penis or the wet linings of the body, such as the vagina, rectum or foreskin.

The two main ways that HIV can get passed between you and someone else are:

  • through unprotected sex (anal or vaginal sex without a condom)
  • by sharing needles or other equipment to inject drugs (including steroids)

HIV can also be passed:

  • by sharing needles or ink to get a tattoo
  • by sharing needles or jewellery to get a body piercing
  • by sharing acupuncture needles
  • to a fetus or baby during pregnancy, birth or breastfeeding

How is HIV diagnosed:

The HIV test is a simple blood test. The test is available free of charge at our sexual health clinic

Anonymous Testing

In anonymous testing, the name or identity of the person being tested is not requested, recorded or reported. The test is ordered using a code known only to the person being tested.

Point of Care HIV Testing

Point of care testing is done by pricking your finger and testing your blood while you wait. If you test negative - that is, the point of care test says you are not infected - you receive your results immediately. If you test reactive - that is, the result of the point of care test is not certain - the clinic will take a blood sample and send it to the public health laboratory for standard testing. It can take up to two weeks to get the final results, and you will have to return to the clinic to get your results.

Standard HIV Testing

Standard HIV testing is done by taking a blood sample and sending it to the public health laboratory. It can take up to two weeks to get the results, and you have to return to your healthcare provider or clinic to receive the results.

How Can I Access Testing?

Point of care, Standard and Anonymous HIV testing is available at our Sexual Health Clinic, for information call our Sexual Health Info Line at: 705-541-7100 or 1-800-726-0398.

HIV cannot be passed by:

  • talking, shaking hands, working or eating with someone who has HIV
  • hugs or kisses
  • coughs or sneezes
  • swimming pools
  • toilet seats or water fountains
  • bed sheets or towels
  • forks, spoons, cups or food
  • insects or animals

Anyone can be infected with HIV. You can have HIV without knowing it. You may not look or feel sick for years, but you can still pass the virus on to other people.

Without HIV treatment, your immune system can become too weak to fight off serious illnesses. HIV can also damage other parts of your body. Eventually, you can become sick with life-threatening infections. This is the most serious stage of HIV infection, called AIDS.


There is no cure for HIV, but there is treatment. With proper care and treatment, most people with HIV can avoid getting AIDS and can stay healthy for a long time.

How can you prevent getting HIV?

  • Practice safe sex
  • Never share injection drug equipment
  • If you are getting a tattoo, make sure that it is done by a professional who follows proper infection control precautions
  • Talk to your partner(s) about their STI status

Date created:  

June 1, 2015

Last modified:

November 18, 2015