HIV Basics


HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. HIV can weaken a person’s immune system, the body’s built-in defence against disease and illness.

In Canada, HIV is most often passed through sex and through sharing equipment to inject drugs. A person can have HIV without knowing it. HIV testing is important because it is the only way for a person to know their HIV status.

When people know they have HIV, they can get the treatment and care they need. The earlier a person starts treatment, the better it is for their health. Treatment usually consists of a single daily pill, and most people experience minimal or no side effects. With treatment and care, people with HIV can live long and healthy lives. HIV treatment also helps prevent HIV transmission to other people. When a person is on HIV treatment and has an undetectable viral load, they will not pass HIV through sex.

In addition to HIV treatment that can prevent passing HIV, there are several other highly effective ways to prevent HIV transmission. This includes medications used by HIV-negative people called pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP), condoms for sex and new needles and other equipment for injecting drugs.

To learn more about the basics of HIV, check out:

HIV Basics – This brochure for clients outlines the basic facts about HIV, including what it is, how it is transmitted, treatment and prevention.

HIV Basics – This video for clients and service providers explains how HIV works in the body, and includes key messages about testing, treatment and prevention.

HIV Basics – This self-directed course for service providers provides an introduction to HIV, including testing, prevention and treatment.