Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a virus that spreads through the body and damages the immune system, making it difficult to fight off illnesses. Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) can occur approximately 5-10 years after HIV infection. At this stage, the immune system becomes damaged, resulting in increased risk of contracting infections or cancers. HIV spreads through contact with infected blood and bodily fluids, such as semen and vaginal fluid (including menstrual blood) and breastmilk.


People may not have any symptoms when first infected with HIV.

Early symptoms may include:

  • Fever, fatigue and muscle aches are most common
  • Night sweats
  • Swollen glands in the neck, armpits, and groin
  • Sore throat
  • Rash
  • Weight loss
  • Headache

Later signs could include:

  • Frequent infections
  • Decreased appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Swollen glands

HIV can spread from person to person in the following ways:

  • Vaginal, anal and/or oral sex without proper use of a barrier such as a condom or oral dam.
  • Sharing needles and injection equipment.
  • Using blood products from countries that do not screen for HIV.
  • To an infant during pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding.

Testing and Treatment

The only way to know if you have HIV is to get tested!

Knowing if you have HIV and getting early treatment means there is less chance of developing AIDS and infecting other people. Taking Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) medication early and regularly can render HIV undetectable in your body.

Getting tested for HIV requires a blood test. More information on getting tested is available on the Get Tested, STBBIs page. You can also do a home test by conducting a finger prick. However, all positive home tests must have a follow up blood test with your health care provider.


To reduce your risk of getting HIV, follow these practices:

  • Talk about STBBIs and safer sex options with every partner to ensure that you protect one another.
  • Use a condom and/or oral dam properly and consistently each time you are sexually active.
  • See your healthcare provider or go to a sexual health clinic to be tested for STBBIs if you are sexually active or starting a sexual relationship with a new partner.
  • You and your partner should be tested for STBBIs before becoming sexually active and then again in three to six months.
  • Avoid sharing contaminated needles and use new equipment to inject drugs. For information on getting clean needles, call the Harm Reduction Clinic at 709-777-1761.
  • Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is used by people who are HIV negative to help prevent them from getting HIV. It involves taking a prescription pill that contains two medications. See your healthcare provider to discuss PrEP. Click here for more information.
  • Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) is a way to help prevent the transmission of HIV in an HIV-negative person who may have been exposed to the virus through contact with blood or bodily fluids. It involves taking HIV medications within 72 hours (about three days) after exposure. See your healthcare provider to discuss PEP. Click here for more information.

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Last updated: 2023-07-25