HIV Positive? Get the Facts

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.

HIV Disclosure and the Law

HIV Treatment

HIV is treated with antiretroviral drugs. There are many different drugs that can be used in different combinations to treat HIV. Your doctor will work with you to determine which ones are the best for you. HIV is usually treated using different combinations of antiretroviral drugs. If you hear the terms “ART (antiretroviral therapy)” or “HAART (highly active antiretroviral therapy)” they are referring to these different combinations of drugs. Antiretroviral drugs are designed to prevent the HIV virus from replicating in your body. Different drugs disrupt the HIV virus replication process in different ways. Because the virus has difficulty reproducing in the body with appropriate treatment, many people’s viral loads drop to undetectable levels a few months after starting treatment. The body’s CD4 count rises to normal levels, and your immune system regains strength. This is why treatment is so important and why you should talk to your doctor about your positive HIV test.

The information on treatment is provided for your information only. It does not provide medical advice and does not replace the advice of a doctor. If you test positive for HIV, it is very important that you speak with your doctor. Proper treatment can prevent HIV from causing serious illness, and can help people get better and stay healthy. You doctor will work with you to determine when you should start treatment. Starting treatment at the right time is very important to maintain a healthy CD4 count and control your viral load.

It is important to know that although antiretroviral drugs are a critical part of treatment, there are many other things you can do to help you stay healthy physically, mentally, emotionally, and sexually. Good nutrition is especially important, and exercise can help strengthen your immune system, maintain muscle, keep your heart and lungs healthy, manage stress, and fight depression. There are many complementary therapies, sometimes referred to as complementary and alternative medicine, which can be used alongside antiretroviral therapy. Some people find that complementary therapies help them feel better physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Most importantly, you just have to make sure you take care of yourself.

So what are the take-away points?

  • HIV can be treated very well with antiretroviral drugs.
  • It is important to get treated so that you can remain healthy and prevent serious illness.
  • Many people with HIV live long lives if they get the appropriate treatment.

For more information on HIV Treatment

HIV Disclosure and the Law

Although we believe that disclosure of HIV status is the right of individuals living with HIV, disclosure is mandatory under the Canadian law in certain situations. You can read our full Position Statement on HIV Disclosure online.

Step 1: Know your status

Learning about your HIV-positive status is an important step for your health. Thanks to medical advances, people who know their HIV-positive status and have access to care and HIV treatment (antiretrovirals or ARVs) can live long and healthy lives. Access to treatment can also help reduce the risks of transmitting HIV to sexual partners. But knowing that you are HIV-positive also has other implications in your life — for example, deciding whom to tell about your HIV status.

Step 2: Know the law

The following websites offer excellent resources on HIV, Disclosure, and the Law.

HALCO Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network Pacific AIDS Network
HALCO is a charitable not-for-profit community-based legal clinic that provides free legal services for people living with HIV/AIDS in Ontario. The Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network promotes the human rights of people living with and vulnerable to HIV/AIDS. Their website offers information through publications and current news on the topic of HIV and the law.

For more information about HIV Disclosure and the Law, please read this document created by Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network. It is available in English, French, Chinese, Punjabi, and Spanish

The Pacific AIDS Network website provides many useful resources and information on HIV and the law.

What is disclosure?

Disclosing your HIV-positive status means telling someone else (e.g., a friend, your parents, your spouse, etc.) that you are HIV-positive. Most of the time, disclosure is up to you. You have no obligation to tell your family or friends that you are HIV-positive, but you might decide to do so if you think their support could help. Similarly, in most circumstances, you don’t have to tell your landlord, employer, co-workers, classmates or school officials. You also do not have to tell your dentist or other health-care workers that you are HIV positive. But, again, you might decide to do so to ensure that you receive proper, well-informed care.

Disclosure to a sexual partner

Disclosing to a sexual partner means telling someone you are having sex with that you are HIV-positive. This person could be anyone with whom you have a sexual relationship, including your spouse, a regular sexual partner, or someone you might have sex with only once.

In Canada, people living with HIV have an obligation under the criminal law to tell their sexual partners they are HIV-positive before having sex that poses what the courts call “a realistic possibility of transmission.” In other words, if you engage in a sexual activity that, according to the law, carries a realistic possibility for transmitting HIV, and you do not disclose your status beforehand, you could be charged with a serious crime. If you are found guilty, you could go to jail.

It does not matter whether HIV is transmitted or not. You can be charged simply for not telling your sexual partners that you are HIV-positive, even if HIV is not transmitted.

What does ‘a realistic possibility of transmission’ mean?

Based on the current state of Canadian law, it is safest to assume that you have an obligation to disclose before:
▪ Vaginal or anal sex without a condom;
▪ Vaginal or anal sex with a condom unless you have a low viral load (less than 1500 copies/ml).

Disclaimer: The information published above is based on the understanding of Canadian Law on October 2015. Information on this page was sourced from the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network.