What is HIV?

HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. Once HIV enters the body, it begins to weaken the immune system, the system that usually protects the body against disease. Without proper HIV treatment, a person’s immune system becomes weaker and they can become sick from various infections, sometimes called “opportunistic infections”.

There is no cure for HIV; however, with proper HIV treatment, the virus can be managed like any other chronic illness and most people with HIV stay healthy.

What is AIDS?

 AIDS stands for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. If HIV is not diagnosed and treated with HIV drugs, the immune system generally becomes weaker over time. Eventually, a person with HIV can become sick with a life-threatening infection, leading to an AIDS diagnosis. In other words, an AIDS diagnoses requires two things: 

1) the presence of HIV in the body
2) an opportunistic infection

How is HIV transmitted?

HIV is transmitted when an adequate amount of HIV from an HIV-positive person gets into an HIV-negative person’s body. Only five body fluids can contain enough HIV to infect someone else:

  • blood
  • semen (including pre-cum)
  • vaginal fluid
  • anal fluid
  • breast milk

HIV infection can happen during sex and through needle use (by sharing used needles or “works”). Additionally, someone who is HIV-positive can transmit HIV to their baby during pregnancy and childbirth, and by breastfeeding.

Why is HIV a women’s health issue?

Vulnerability to HIV and AIDS among women in Ontario is closely linked to a variety of biological factors and social determinants of health.

  • Access to health services
  • Housing
  • Poverty
  • Social support networks
  • Racism and discrimination
  • Immigration status
  • Security
  • Violence against women

What are the numbers?

There are approximately 8,000 women living with HIV in Ontario. Women represent about 1 in 5 people diagnosed with HIV each year.

Note: Currently, data is not collected in Ontario about trans people and HIV. When completing an HIV test, the tester is required to select Male or Female on the lab requisition form. The tester may make that selection based on the gender presentation, health card or assumed genitals of the person being tested. There is no consistency in how HIV data about trans people is collected, which means that we do not know how many trans women are living with HIV in Ontario.

Who is most affected?

In Ontario, women most commonly become infected with HIV through high-risk sexual activities (vaginal*, or anal intercourse without a condom) and sharing needles or other drug equipment with someone living with HIV.

  • African, Caribbean, and Black women
  • Women who use injection drugs
  • Indigenous women
  • Trans women are among the most affected by HIV in Ontario. 

To learn more about the basics of HIV and AIDS

* Trans men and transmasculine folks who have not had genital surgeries may refer to their genitals using all kinds of language. Some people may use the term ‘front hole’ to refer to these parts. For more information about language, and safer sex with trans men.

Women represent about 1 in 5 people diagnosed with HIV each year.

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