Subscribe to our RSS feed

Popular News Stories

  • Fuck poz guys!
  • Tom Hanks in Philadelphia Changed my Life
  • Canadian AIDS Society’s AGM and PHA Forum in Ottawa: some scholarships for HIVers available
  • Semen goes viral – or does it?
  •  - the interview



Ten things you may not know about HIV today

Friday, 14 November 2014 Written by // CATIE - HIV and Hep C Info Resource Categories // CATIE, Health, CATIE - HIV and Hep C Info Resource

From PrEP to HIV and aging, CATIE says if you blinked, you may have missed some of the ways HIV has changed.

Ten things you may not know about HIV today

This article previously appeared on the CATIE website here.  

Une version française est disponible ici

The science of HIV is constantly evolving, and what we knew (or thought we knew) just a few years ago is either incorrect, incomplete or in need of an upgrade. Every year we learn more about the virus, and research keeps giving us new tools to prevent, test and treat it.

1. PrEP works in the real world

Pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, is the daily use of anti-HIV medication by HIV-negative people to prevent infection before an exposure. While this latest prevention tool has been met with caution and some skepticism, recent studies have demonstrated its efficacy if taken regularly and have eased fears that HIV-negative people might abandon other prevention strategies such as condoms.

2. HIV can be detected within weeks

How long after a potential HIV exposure should you wait before getting tested? While technologies vary in every jurisdiction, the vast majority of HIV infections can be detected much earlier than in the past. Why is this important to know? Early detection can lead to better health outcomes and near-normal lifespans. It also prevents further transmission, since a large proportion of new HIV infections may come from individuals who have been newly infected.

3. Late testing can be lethal

Since the introduction of effective antiretroviral therapy in the mid-1990s, people with HIV in high-income countries can now live longer and healthier lives. However, the death rate among HIV-positive people is still higher than among HIV-negative people, and most HIV-related deaths are a result of late detection. According to a study in England, 80% of people with HIV who died had only been diagnosed after developing serious immune deficiency.

4. Undetectable viral load can be an effective HIV prevention strategy

An undetectable viral load can significantly reduce the transmission of HIV among heterosexual couples and men who have sex with men. Over the past several years, studies and expert consensus statements have confirmed this, offering an additional strategy for people living with HIV to reduce the risk of transmission.

5. Repeated exposures increase the risk of an activity

One of the most common questions faced by HIV educators is the level of risk for a specific sexual activity. Not satisfied with a broad categorization such as ‘low-risk’ or ‘high-risk,’ many want to ‘put a number on it’ so they can know the statistical likelihood of transmission for each act. What these statistics fail to capture, however, is that risk accumulates as the number of exposures increases. This means that for a low-risk activity, the risk of infection can increase the more often it happens.

6. Not every HIV exposure leads to an infection

Although the most effective way to prevent the sexual transmission of HIV is to avoid exposure to fluids that contain the virus, the reality is that not all exposures result in infection. After an exposure, HIV still needs to complete a difficult journey before it can spread throughout the body. In some cases, HIV is not able to complete this journey and infection does not occur. The likelihood of infection depends on many factors.

7. Rectal fluid can transmit HIV

We’ve known for a long time that, in the absence of the consistent and correct use of highly effective prevention strategies (e.g. condom use, undetectable viral load, PrEP), anal sex can be a high-risk activity for the transmission of HIV. For an insertive (‘top’) HIV-negative partner, we used to think that the risk of infection was due to HIV being transmitted from blood in the rectum to the penis. We now know that HIV can also be present in rectal fluid, and sometimes at levels higher than those found in blood. This means that the risk of infection from insertive anal sex can be high even when there is no bleeding or tearing.

8. People aren’t using condoms correctly

Condoms are an effective strategy for HIV prevention, but they’re only effective when they’re used consistently and correctly. A recent literature review has revealed that the incorrect use of condoms is surprisingly common, with problems including breakage, slippage, leakage and delayed application. Research shows that education and experience can help lower rates of condom failure, so get practising!

9. People with HIV can have a near-normal life expectancy

When diagnosed early and linked to treatment and care, a young Canadian living with HIV can now expect to live to their early 70s. A recent study found that overall the life expectancy for HIV-positive people has increased over the past decade and is approaching that of HIV-negative people in similar circumstances. Continued engagement in care is crucial for maximum life expectancy.

10. Prepare for an aging HIV epidemic

As people continue to live longer with HIV, the demographics of the HIV-positive population are shifting. Once an infection primarily affecting young gay men in Canada, the proportion of HIV-positive people over the age of 50 has steadily increased in high-income countries. Combined with new HIV infections occurring at an older age, healthcare providers should expect to see an increased need for services from HIV-positive seniors in the coming years.

Arts and Entertainment Section

  • Skimming pebbles: Part two

    Skimming pebbles: Part two

    In part two of Dave R’s story, Andy struggles with what he’s learned and tries to balance deep dilemmas with his own reality. In the end, the choice is taken out of his hands but should he have done more? Would you have done more?
  • Season’s greetings

    Season’s greetings

    Bob Leahy and his dogs on doing what doesn’t come naturally, pet photography and Christmas spent away from home
  • Skimming pebbles: Part one

    Skimming pebbles: Part one

    Fiction from Dave R - a two-part story set in the South Seas. A man tries to escape his past by moving to what he hopes may be paradise. However, the serpent there confronts him with dilemmas he desperately hoped to avoid.

Activism Section

Current Affairs Section

Events Section

  • Living with HIV in Canada?

    Living with HIV in Canada?

    The federal funding agency PHAC wants to hear your views on how they propose distributing funds to the agencies that serve us, and how those services will be delivered
  • Honoured for their work

    Honoured for their work was at the 2014 Ontario AIDS Network Honour Roll Awards in Toronto last week to celebrate the induction of the four 2014 award winners.
  • Gains and…challenges

    Gains and…challenges

    COCQ-SIDA's new campaign takes on HIV stigma by matching the gains in the fight against HIV/AIDS against the challenges that remain. Ken Monteith reports.

Features and Interviews Section

Health Section

International Section

Legal Section

Lifestyle Section

Living with HIV Section

Media Section

Opinion Pieces Section

  • The chaser’s tale – part three

    The chaser’s tale – part three

    Responding to critics, guest Joseph Sinnott answers some of the accusations levelled at bug-chasers, those people who intentionally contract HIV like himself.
  • Reinventing the language

    Reinventing the language

    To combat fear and stigma, guest Tom Johnston from New Brunswick says “the terms “AIDS”, and “HIV” need to be eradicated from every area of communication and replaced with something more representative of what this virus actually is.”
  • Is HIV getting weaker? Don't count on it

    Is HIV getting weaker? Don't count on it

    From The “This year's story goes something like this: "HIV is getting weaker." But is it really? And if it is, what does that really mean for the fight against HIV, and for those who are living with HIV today?"

Population Specific Section

Sex and Sexuality Section