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Dr. Lucas Castellani 
Infectious Disease Specialist,
Sault Area Hospital

HIV 101

What is HIV? 

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a virus that attacks the immune system and immune cells called CD4 cells. The virus is transmitted through five bodily fluids: semen (including pre-cum); vaginal fluids, rectal fluids, blood and breastmilk.  The most common ways of getting HIV are through condomless sex and sharing needles.

Once the virus is in the body, it attacks your immune system and CD4 cells. It uses the CD4 cells to make copies of itself to spread throughout your body. When this happens you get a high amount of HIV in your blood which is called your “viral load”.  When you have a high viral load, it lowers your CD4 count and your body’s immunity while leaving you vulnerable to infections and viruses.

What is AIDS? 

Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is the most advanced stage of HIV where the body is most vulnerable to illnesses, bacteria and other viruses which could have serious health consequences. When you are in this stage, you can’t fight off infections because your body has so little CD4 cells that keep your immune system strong and there are many copies of HIV in your blood.