World AIDS Day
AIDS was first recognized in the early 1980s with the first case in Canada reported in 1982. AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome and is the most serious symptom of HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) infection. The disease was originally associated with the gay community but by the mid-1980s scientists had identified the virus responsible, learned that it was spread through sex and blood exchange, and determined that anyone could contract it. More than 30 years later, research into HIV/AIDS and the development of drugs to manage the disease mean that infection no longer dramatically shortens a life. The disease continues to spread however and on December 1 organizations around the world work to raise awareness and dispel the stigma surrounding AIDS.
As of 2016 63,110 people were HIV positive in Canada with 6 new people being infected each day according to the Canadian AIDS Treatment Information Exchange (CATIE). HIV can only be transmitted through five bodily fluids: blood, semen (including pre-cum), rectal fluid, vaginal fluid, and breast milk. HIV is most commonly spread through sex and exchanging needles but can also be passed from mother to fetus. Without treatment the virus interferes with and weakens a person’s immune system so that it cannot fight off other infections and illnesses.
HIV prevention is relatively easy. Programs that educate people about safer sex practices, the responsible use of condoms, dental dams, and other forms of protection reduce the likelihood of transmission. Needle syringe programs and safe injection sites also reduce transmission by providing people who use drugs access to sterile equipment to prevent the reusing or sharing of equipment. Additionally, pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, is a way for an HIV-negative person who is at risk of HIV infection to reduce their risk of getting HIV by taking medications. Post-exposure prophylaxis, or PEP, is a way to help prevent the transmission of HIV in an HIV-negative person who may have been recently exposed to HIV, and must be started within 72 hours of exposure to HIV. These preventative options are most effective when widely implemented alongside regular testing.
Thanks to new medication, it is possible to be HIV positive and live a long life.Treatment for HIV is anti-retroviral medication, which does not cure HIV infection but can make it possible for people to stay healthy and live for decades. UNAIDS reports that in 2017, 36.9 million people were living with HIV around the world and that 21.7 million of them were on antiretroviral therapy. The UN is working to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030. That work will only be successful if rates of transmission can be slowed and treatment is made available to every HIV positive person.
Frighteningly, CATIE reports that 14% of HIV positive people in Canada don’t know that they have HIV. HIV testing is available through health care providers and sexual health clinics in Grey Bruce. It can be done alongside testing for other STIs which is important because having an STI increases a person’s likelihood of contracting HIV. The Grey Bruce Health Unit operates the GB Works Needle Syringe Program which offers sterile supplies for people who use drugs to prevent HIV and Hepatitis C. For more information about this program please visit www.publichealthgreybruce.on.ca
As we mark World AIDS Day, it is especially important to challenge the stigma that surrounds the disease. The more that our community can reduce the judgement and discrimination directed towards populations at higher risk, the more likely and possible we make it for people to access the services they need. For more information about HIV visit www.catie.ca. To book an appointment for testing, contact your health care provider or call Public Health (519) 376-9420 x 1256.
Lindsay Cook R.N., B.Sc.N.
Grey Bruce Health Unit
Jon Farmer – Coordinator
Violence Prevention Grey Bruce