Risk Factors for HIV Infection
British Columbia Specific Information
Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) causes an infection that damages the immune system. The immune system is the part of the body that fights infection and disease. If untreated, HIV infection will lead to a serious disease called Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS).
For information on HIV infection and care in British Columbia, visit BC Centre for Disease Control and BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS. For information on HIV drug coverage in B.C., please visit the Ministry of Health BC PharmaCare website.
In B.C. HIV testing guidelines recommend that everyone have an HIV test at least every 5 years. They recommend more frequent testing for people who belong to populations that have a greater chance of having HIV, are pregnant, experience a change in their health that suggests HIV, or if someone requests a test. For information on HIV testing, see HealthLinkBC File #08m HIV and HIV Tests and HealthLinkBC File #38a HIV Testing in Pregnancy.
Most people get HIV by having unprotected sex with someone who has HIV. HIV can be spread even through unprotected oral sex.footnote 2 Another common way of getting the virus is when injecting drugs and sharing needles with someone who is infected with HIV.
You have an increased risk of becoming infected with HIV through sexual contact if you:
- Have unprotected sex (sex without condoms).
- Have multiple sex partners.
- Are a man who has sex with other men.
- Have high-risk partner(s) (partner has multiple sex partners, is a man who has sex with other men, or injects drugs).
- Have or have recently had a sexually transmitted infection, such as syphilis or active herpes.
People who inject drugs or steroids, especially if they share needles, syringes, cookers, or other equipment used to inject drugs, are at risk of being infected with HIV.
Babies who are born to mothers who are infected with HIV are also at risk of infection.
What to think about
HIV may be spread more easily in the early stage of infection, when the first flu-like symptoms of HIV (acute retroviral syndrome) are present, and again later, if symptoms of HIV-related illness develop.
The risk of getting HIV from a blood transfusion or a donated organ is extremely low in Canada and the United States. All donated blood and organs are screened for HIV antibodies and HIV RNA, which can detect HIV before antibodies develop. This low risk doesn't decrease the importance of limiting the use of donated blood (when possible) or encouraging people who know they are going to have surgery to donate their own blood (called an autologous donation).
The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) recommends HIV screening if you think you may have been exposed to HIV, particularly if you engage in high-risk behaviour.footnote 1 Some provinces recommend HIV screening for everyone. You and your doctor can decide if testing is right for you.
- Public Health Agency of Canada (2010). Get tested for HIV. Available online: http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/aids-sida/info/4-eng.php
- U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2009). Oral sex and HIV risk: CDC HIV/AIDS facts. Available online: http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/resources/factsheets/oralsex.htm.
Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Brian D. O'Brien, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Peter Shalit, MD, PhD - Internal Medicine
Current as ofMay 22, 2015
Current as of: May 22, 2015
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