World AIDS Day

Author: GOeBlogger

December 2, 2020

This past Tuesday, we recognized World AIDS Day. Founded in 1988, World AIDS Day is an international day dedicated to raising awareness of the AIDS pandemic caused by the spread of HIV infection, to support for people living with HIV, and to commemorate those who have died from HIV/AIDS.

HIV/AIDS is a very complex infection, but what is it exactly? We’ll try to break it down for you here.

Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is a chronic and potentially life-threatening condition caused by Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). Compiled by the Mayo Clinic, these are ways that HIV can be spread:

  • Having sex: You may become infected if you have vaginal, anal or oral sex with an infected partner whose blood, semen or vaginal secretions enter your body. The virus can enter your body through mouth sores or small tears that sometimes develop in the rectum or vagina during sexual activity.
  • Sharing needles: Sharing contaminated IV needles and syringes puts you at high risk of HIV and other infectious diseases, such as hepatitis.
  • Blood transfusions: In some cases, the virus may be transmitted through blood transfusions. Hospitals and blood banks screen the blood supply for HIV antibodies, so this risk is very small.
  • During pregnancy or delivery or through breast-feeding: Infected mothers can pass the virus on to their babies. Mothers who are HIV-positive and get treatment for the infection during pregnancy can significantly lower the risk to their babies.

If left untreated, HIV progresses to AIDS in eight to ten years, and when AIDS occurs, the immune system has been severely damaged. At this stage, individuals with AIDS are more likely to develop opportunistic infections or opportunistic cancers – diseases that wouldn’t usually cause illness in a person with a healthy immune system. There is no cure for HIV/AIDS, but thanks to the best science available, most people with HIV don’t develop AIDS.

In 2019 there were roughly 38 million people living with HIV globally. As of 2016, Canada had an estimated 63,110 people living with HIV. A staggering 14% of people with HIV in Canada were unaware they have HIV - roughly 9,090 people. Proper education on transmission, prevention, who is at risk, and the symptoms of HIV, is important in raising awareness and reducing stigma. Stigma and discrimination remain a reality for many people living with the condition.

From Catie, seven ways to prevent HIV:

  • Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP): PrEP is used by people who are HIV negative to help prevent them from getting HIV. PrEP is a medication that you take before and continuing after you might come into contact with HIV.
  • Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP): PEP consists of medications that a person can take after they might have come into contact with HIV, to help prevent them from getting HIV. For example, someone might choose to use PEP after a condom breaks during sex.
  • Treatment for people living with HIV: While HIV treatment helps people with HIV to stay healthy, and it also helps prevent passing HIV to others.
  • Condoms: Wearing a condom during sex can greatly reduce the risk of transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.
  • Choosing types of sex with lower risk for HIV: Some types of sex have a lower risk for HIV than others. Oral sex has little to no chance of passing HIV, while non penetrative sex, mutual exploration, and using unshared sex toys have no chance of passing HIV. However, STIs can be passed through some of these types of sex.
  • Using new equipment for using drugs: If you use new equipment each time you use drugs, there is no risk of getting HIV. When injecting drugs, it’s best to use new needles, syringes, filters, cookers, acidifiers, alcohol swabs, tourniquets and water each time. When smoking or snorting drugs, the pipe or straws should also be new each time.
  • Using drugs in ways with lower risk for HIV: Taking drugs by swallowing, snorting or smoking them carries little to no risk of HIV. However, there may be a risk for hepatitis C, so make sure to use your own equipment (such as your straw or pipe).

This year, consider wearing a red ribbon - the universal symbol of awareness and support for people living with HIV. Perhaps use a virtual ribbon on your email signature to show your support during the month of December. You never know how your show of support might impact someone who sees it, whether it’s a neighbour undergoing treatment, or a family friend who was just diagnosed. A little support can go a long way.




GOeBlogger is a health enthusiast and avid reader living and thriving in vibrant Vancouver. When she's not nerding out at her laptop, you can find her exploring the beautiful BC coastline with her dog.