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HIV/AIDS: The equal opportunity illness

The equal opportunity illness
AIDS does not belong to any one sex, age, race or country.

HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is spread through direct contact with blood and bodily fluids. The virus can be passed on during anal, vaginal, or oral sex, sharing needles, or receiving blood from an infected person.

HIV can pass from a woman to her baby:

  • During pregnancy.
  • At birth.
  • When breast feeding.

You can have the HIV virus and not even know it. You may not look or feel sick, but you can still pass the virus on to other people including your baby. Many woman with HIV discover  it only  after their children are found to have the virus.

If you have HIV, there are treatments that can reduce the risk of passing the virus on to your baby. Talk to your doctor.

Not my problem?

“Not my problem” should not be your first response to a caution about HIV and AIDS, unless you have read the information below and tests have confirmed you are safe to take the next step toward pregnancy.

Must-see facts

  • An infected woman can spread HIV to her baby during pregnancy and delivery.
  • More and more Canadian women are becoming infected with HIV. Almost half the woman testing positive are between 15 and 29 years of age.
  • A high number of lifetime sexual partners can put a person at greater risk for developing HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. But it only takes one partner.
  • Little knowledge about your partner’s sexual history and health may put you at risk for infection.
  • Having another sexually transmitted infection, such as chlamydia or herpes can increase your risk of getting HIV.
  • Condom use offers protection from sexually transmitted infections.
  • Injection drug users are at greater risk for getting HIV. Use a clean (sterile) needle each time and do not share needles with others.

Risky business?

HIV attacks a person’s immune system. This makes it hard to fight infections. If you have HIV, you may not have symptoms and if left untreated there is a 25% chance you can pass the virus to your baby. Know the risks for HIV. Answer these statements below:

If you responded yes to all statements, you are protecting your own health and taking action to create a healthier pregnancy in the future. Great!

Keeping your body safe

  • If you answered “no” or “not sure” to any of the previous statements, think about taking one or more of the following actions to stay as healthy as possible:
  • I will talk with my current partner.
  • I will talk to any partner about past practices and my desire to practice safer sex.
  • I will make an appointment to discuss HIV testing with my health care provider or at the sexual health clinic.
  • I will ask my partner to talk to a health care provider or call the sexual health clinic.
  • I will arrange to get clean needles and not share with anyone.

For years, before giving birth, women have been screened for hepatitis B and rubella (German measles). Voluntary HIV testing is also offered to women who are planning a pregnancy or who are already pregnant. You have the choice to get HIV tests ordered, using your name or not. It is important to know that you can get tested any time. But before pregnancy or early in pregnancy are the best times to take steps to protect both you and your unborn baby.

You do not have to give your name if you want to be tested for HIV. Anonymous testing is available.

If you are HIV positive and want to have a baby, talk to your doctor and the Canadian AIDS Treatment and Information Exchange (CATIE) 1 800-263-1638. Ask for the booklet: “You can have a healthy pregnancy if you are HIV positive”.


Sexual health clinic:

Health care provider:

Local public health unit: 1-800-267-8097

Ontario HIV/AIDS and Sexual Health Information Line: 1-800-668-2437

Ontario HIV/AIDS: Main Line (information about needle exchange programs
and STDs and injection drug use): 1-800-686-7544

Motherisk, HIV and HIV Treatment in Pregnancy: 1-888-246-5840 or

Canadian Aids Treatment and Information Exchange (CATIE):
1-800-263-1638 or www.catie.ca

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