What is HIV?

HIV is a virus that attacks your immune system. Over time, your immune system may grow weak and you can become sick with different illnesses. After time, your immune system will no longer be able to defend your body from infections, diseases or cancers that can kill you. This advanced stage of the HIV disease is called AIDS.


Where did HIV come from?

No one knows for sure where the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) came from. There are many theories, but none of them have been proven or dismissed absolutely.


Who Can Get HIV?

Anyone who has unprotected sex (especially penetrative sex) or shares needles with someone who is HIV positive or whose HIV status is not known could become infected with HIV. If you think that HIV/AIDS only affects gay men or injection drug users, you are wrong. You are not protected from HIV because you are straight, or young, or a woman, or living in a rural area. You don’t get HIV because of who you are, or where you live. It is what you do that puts you at risk for getting infected.


The proportion of new infections due to heterosexual exposure has increased steadily in the last twenty years, reaching 21% of new infections by 2000. Globally, heterosexual activity accounts for over 70% of HIV infections


How does HIV cause AIDS?

HIV infects and destroys blood cells that a person’s immune system needs to work. HIV stays in the body for years, destroying blood cells until their immune system is so damaged that they develop AIDS (also known as advanced HIV disease). At this stage, HIV has weakened their immune system to the point that they can no longer fight off certain types of infections that other people can fight.

In Canada, a doctor diagnoses AIDS when a person with HIV develops one or more of a number of specific illnesses which indicate AIDS, such as recurrent bacterial pneumonia, pulmonary tuberculosis or invasive cervical cancer. These illnesses are sometimes referred to as opportunistic infections. A person can still be very ill with HIV but not have an AIDS diagnosis.

*This content was originally published by CATIE, Canada’s source for HIV and hepatitis C information. http://catie.ca/en/basics