Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

catie The most up-to-date information for Canadians living with HIV can be found on the CATIE website. For more basic information, see below.

Facts and History

Where did AIDS come from?
Is there a new strain of HIV?

Transmission

Who is at risk of HIV?
Are “lesbians” or other women who have sex with women at risk for HIV?
Can I get HIV if I have another Sexually Transmited Infection (STI)?

Can I get HIV from…

…casual contact?
…unprotected oral sex?
…unused sanitary pads?
…a tattoo or through body piercing?
…mosquitoes?

Prevention

Isn’t abstinence the only way to prevent HIV?
We all know how HIV is spread, so why continue to spend money on prevention?
Where can I get condoms?
Am I too young to buy condoms?

Treatment

Can I get my HIV meds by mail?

Living with HIV

How long can a person live with HIV?

Facts and History

Where did AIDS come from?
Until February of 1999, no one knew for sure where the HIV virus came from. There were several theories but nothing proven. In February, an international team of scientists reported that they had traced the roots of HIV-1 to a subspecies of chimpanzees in Africa. The researchers stated that chimpanzees are hunted and sold in the “bushmeat” trade, which during the slaughtering process may have placed people at risk for cross-species transmission through open cuts or sores.

Is there a new strain of HIV?
HIV is a virus and is able to mutate. There are two identified strains of HIV. HIV-1 and HIV 2. HIV-2 is not as virulent as HIV-1. HIV testing in the Canada usually only screens for HIV-1. Blood banks and plasma centers screen for both.

Transmission

Who is at risk of HIV?
Anyone is at risk of infection. Risk factors include:

  1. Engaging in condom-less (anal or vaginal) sex with someone that has HIV
  2. Babies born to HIV-positive mothers not on treatment for HIV
  3. Sharing contaminated needles and/or ancillary injecting equipment
  4. Health care professional who are on the job

The risk of transmission varies widely, due to the role of behavioural and biological co-factors.

Are “lesbians” or other women who have sex with women at risk for HIV?
Female-to-female transmission of HIV appears to be a rare occurrence. However, there are case reports of female-to-female transmission of HIV. The well documented risk of female-to-male transmission of HIV shows that vaginal secretions and menstrual blood may contain the virus and that mucous membrane (e.g., oral, vaginal) exposure to these secretions has the potential to lead to HIV infection.

In order to reduce the risk of HIV transmission, women who have sex with women should do the following:

  • Avoid exposure of a mucous membrane, such as the mouth, (especially non-intact tissue) to vaginal secretions and menstrual blood.
  • Use condoms consistently and correctly each and every time for sexual contact with men or when using sex toys. Sex toys should not be shared. No barrier methods for use during oral sex have been evaluated as effective by the FDA. However, natural rubber latex sheets, dental dams, cut open condoms, or plastic wrap may offer some protection from contact with body fluids during oral sex and possibly reduce the risk of HIV transmission.
  • Know your own and your partner’s HIV status. This knowledge can help uninfected women begin and maintain behavioral changes that reduce the risk of becoming infected. For women who are found to be infected, it can assist in getting early treatment and avoiding infecting others.

Can I get HIV if I have another Sexually Transmited Infection (STI)?
Research has shown that HIV transmission is 2-5 times more likely to occur when another sexually transmitted infection (STI) is present.

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Can I get HIV from…

…casual contact?
No! HIV is a fragile virus that is difficult to get. You do not get HIV from: sneezing or coughing, touching, hugging, dry kissing, public restrooms, saunas or showers, pools, sharing towels, sharing eating utensils or drinks, or being friends with a person who has HIV.

…unprotected oral sex?
Yes, there are documented cases of HIV infection from oral sex with both men and women. However this is very rare.
Body fluids exchanged through sexual activity can enter cuts in the mouth and get into the bloodstream. Also, certain cells in the mucus lining of the mouth may carry HIV into the lymph nodes or bloodstream. Reduce the risk of HIV during oral sex by using a latex or polyurethane barrier such as a condom or dental dam.

…unused sanitary pads?
HIV cannot be transmitted through the use of new, unused feminine pads. The human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, is a virus that is passed from one person to another through blood-to-blood and sexual contact with someone who is infected with HIV. In addition, infected pregnant women can pass HIV to their babies during pregnancy or delivery, as well as through breast feeding. Although some people have been concerned that HIV might be transmitted in other ways, such as through air, water, insects, or common objects, no scientific evidence supports this. Even though no one has gotten HIV from touching used feminine pads, used pads should be wrapped and properly disposed of so no one comes in contact with blood.

…a tattoo or through body piercing?

  • A risk of HIV transmission does exist if instruments contaminated with blood are either not sterilized or disinfected or are used inappropriately between clients. CDC recommends that single-use instruments intended to penetrate the skin be used once, then disposed of. Reusable instruments or devices that penetrate the skin and/or contact a client’s blood should be thoroughly cleaned and sterilized between clients.
  • Personal service workers who do tattooing or body piercing should be educated about how HIV is transmitted and take precautions to prevent transmission of HIV and other blood-borne infections in their settings.
  • If you are considering getting a tattoo or having your body pierced, ask staff at the establishment what procedures they use to prevent the spread of HIV and other blood-borne infections, such as the hepatitis B virus. You also may call the local health department to find out what sterilization procedures are in place in the local area for these types of establishments.

…mosquitoes?
No. From the start of the HIV epidemic there has been concern about HIV transmission from biting and bloodsucking insects, such as mosquitoes. However, studies conducted by the CDC and elsewhere have shown no evidence of HIV transmission from mosquitoes or any other insects – even in areas where there are many cases of AIDS and large populations of mosquitoes. Lack of such outbreaks, despite intense efforts to detect them, supports the conclusion that HIV is not transmitted by insects.

Prevention

Isn’t abstinence the only way to prevent HIV?
Abstaining from sexual activity or certain sexual behaviors can certainly eliminate risk. So can eliminating alcohol or other drug use that may impair judgment when in sexual situations. However, abstinence also has its own “failure rates.” It is equally important for people to know how to reduce risk as it is for them to know how to eliminate it. Click here for more information of HIV transmission risks.

We all know how HIV is spread, so why continue to spend money on prevention?
HIV is like many other social and public health issues involving knowledge and behavior, such as seatbelt use and speeding; where people need to be continually informed and reminded. Also, HIV prevention education reaches young people, many of whom do not possess the correct sexual health information.

Where can I get condoms?
You can buy condoms at most drug stores (like Shopper’s Drug Mart) and sex-stores (like the Condom Shack). Free condoms are available at PHAN and all Healthy Sexuality Clinics in the region of Peel. Condoms are also available on the internet at sites such as The Official Condom Directory.

Remember: Condoms come in different thickness, sizes, and styles. It’s best to try out different brands and types until you find one that fits the best.

Am I too young to buy condoms?
NO! There is no age restriction on buying or having condoms. It may be uncomfortable for you to buy condoms in a store whose staffs are giving you a hard time though. So, keep in mind the option of getting it from AIDS organizations, or health clinics, etc.

Treatment

Can I get my HIV meds by mail?
According to Canada Border Service Agency and Health Canada, permanent Residents of Canada cannot have prescriptions medications mailed to them. However, if you are here in Canada on a temporary resident you can have your HIV medications mailed to you if you have a valid visa . Your medication can be mailed if you have made copies of your visitor’s visa or your work permit. You will have to send copies of the visa or work permit back to your country of origin. The documents should be sent to the individual who has consented to mail you your medication. You can be mailed up to a maximum of 3 months or 90 days supplies of medications.

Make sure that the package being mailed to you includes:

  1. A copy of your visa
  2. Your medication in its original package(s) or Hospital or pharmacy dispensed packaging;
  3. Original retail packaging; or
  4. Have the original label affixed to it which clearly indicates what the health product is and what it contains.

It is important to know that even if you have done all of the above, your HIV medication will be pulled and checked by the Canada Border Service Agency, and Health Canada. It is not an easy process; it is one that needs planning and research before attempting. For more information please follow the link to Health Canada’s Website

Living with HIV

How long can a person live with HIV?
In the early years of the disease epidemic, the death rate from AIDS was extremely high. But today, antiretroviral drugs allow HIV-positive people — and even those with AIDS — to live much longer, normal, and productive lives.

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