This page contains basic information about HIV and AIDS. For more information about programs for people living with HIV, as well as programs for those who do not have HIV, see ACT’s programs and services.

The basics:

HIV and AIDS are not the same thing. AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. AIDS is caused by a virus known as the Human Immunodeficiency Virus, or HIV.

AIDS results from an HIV infection that goes untreated for a long period of time. Not everybody who has HIV has AIDS or will develop AIDS. In fact, very few people living with HIV these days will progress to having AIDS. HIV used to be an unmanageable condition that was very dangerous, and it still can be. Fortunately, there are treatments in the form of antiretroviral drugs that allow people living with HIV to remain altogether healthy. The earlier that someone who is HIV-positive knows their status and starts treatment, the better their long-term health outcomes.

How HIV is passed on:

There are four ways HIV can be passed on:

  • having anal, vaginal or frontal hole sex with someone who is HIV positive with a detectable viral load
  • sharing drug gear (needles / syringes) with someone who is HIV-positive with a detectable viral load
  • if women or trans guys living with HIV give birth without being on treatment
  • breastfeeding and chestfeeding

HIV is a fragile virus that cannot survive outside of the body. That is why you cannot be infected with HIV from toilet seats or from sharing dishes or utensils. HIV is not passed through the air, as a cold or flu does. You cannot get HIV from shaking hands, kissing, sharing a drink or being coughed on. In fact, there are only five body fluids which can have enough HIV in them to infect someone:

  • blood
  • semen (cum)
  • vaginal fluids (including menstrual fluids)
  • rectal fluids
  • breast milk