Santé et Services sociaux Québec

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Questions about HIV/AIDS

  1. What is HIV?
  2. What is AIDS?
  3. How is HIV transmitted?
  4. Can HIV be transmitted through everyday activities?
  5. Can mosquitoes transmit HIV?
  6. Are there signs by which you can tell when a person has HIV?
  7. Is AIDS a fatal disease?
  8. Who can be infected by HIV?
  9. Can a pregnant woman transmit HIV to her baby?
  10. Can mother's milk carry HIV?
  11. How to reduce the risk of transmission to the baby during the pregnancy?

What is HIV?

The acronym HIV stands for human immunodeficency virus. HIV infection is caused by a virus that attacks the immune system, whose function is to protect the body from infections. The virus gradually destroys the immune system and the body becomes more vulnerable to infections. HIV is transmitted by having sex, through blood, or during pregnancy (from mother to child).

For more information, consult our brochure HIV is still around .

What is AIDS?

AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) is caused by HIV (human immunodeficency virus). The virus gradually destroys the immune system, leading to acquired immune deficiency syndrome. When someone has AIDS, the advanced stage of HIV infection, the immune system is weak, and opportunistic infections and cancers develop. When this happens,we say that an affected person has AIDS.

For more information, consult our brochure HIV is still around.

How is HIV transmitted?

HIV is present in the body fluids, such as blood, sperm, menstrual blood or vaginal secretions, of seropositive people. HIV is mainly transmitted through of unprotected sexual contact with an infected person. Anal or vaginal penetration without using a condom makes HIV transmission possible. You must protect yourself when lesions — a fresh cut, for example, or a lesion in the mouth — are visible on the body. HIV can also be transmitted by blood when sharing syringes and injection-preparation equipment. A mother with HIV can transmit the virus to her baby during pregnancy, while giving birth and, more rarely, while breast feeding.

For more information, consult our brochure HIV is still around.

Can HIV be transmitted through everyday activities?

Sharing a meal, drinking from the same glass, and hugging someone are everyday contacts  that do not cause transmission of HIV. You can’t get HIV by talking or working with a person infected with the virus. Similarly, HIV does not spread through sneezing or coughing.

For more information, consult our brochure HIV is still around.

Can mosquitoes transmit HIV?

Mosquitoes cannot transmit HIV to people. To date, there is no evidence of mosquitoes having transmitted HIV to humans. Remember that HIV spreads when sexual organs or wounds come into contact with the blood, sperm or vaginal secretions of an infected person. Other means of transmission include sharing syringes and injection-preparation equipment with an infected person, and perinatal transmission (from a seropositive mother to her baby).

For more information, consult our brochure HIV is still around.

Are there signs by which you can tell when a person has HIV?

You cannot tell that a person is infected with HIV by looking at him or her, even if you know the person well. Since this is so, you must adopt safe sex practices.

For more information, consult our brochure HIV is still around.

Is AIDS a fatal disease?

At present, there is no cure for AIDS but there are treatments that slow the progress of the disease, prevent and cure opportunistic infections, delay the onset of AIDS, and improve the quality of life of infected persons. When the immune system is weakened by HIV, the body can develop serious diseases or infections that may cause death. All together, these serious diseases are called AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome).

For more information, consult our brochure STD: Be Aware and Beware.

Who can get infected with HIV?

Anybody can get HIV infection. The virus is not intelligent: it makes no distinctions based on sex, skin color, ethnic origin, age, or sexual orientation. In other words, HIV does not attack an individual because that individual belongs to a particular ethnic group, for example, or has a particular sexual orientation. Risky behaviours facilitate HIV transmission.

For more information, consult our brochure HIV is still around.

Can a pregnant woman transmit HIV to her baby?

A woman who has HIV infection can transmit the virus to her child during pregnancy, while giving birth and, more rarely, while breast-feeding.

For more information, consult our brochures :

HIV is still around
Having a baby or thinking about it... What about AIDS?

Can mother's milk carry HIV?

Mother's milk, along with blood, sperm and vaginal secretions, are the body fluids through which HIV is transmitted. Though the risk of transmission during breastfeeding is small, an infected woman should not breast feed her baby.

For more information, consult our brochure HIV is still around.

How can you reduce the risk of transmission to the baby during the pregnancy?

In recent years, progress has been made in reducing the risk of HIV transmission from mother to baby. A pregnant woman with HIV can take medication to reduce the risk of transmission. Moreover, a woman may give birth by cesarean section to reduce the risk of passing on HIV to her child.

For more information, consult our brochure Having a baby or thinking about it... What about AIDS?