Groping in the Dark

Ruthie Patriquin
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Nov. 24 to Dec. 1 is AIDS Awareness Week in Nova Scotia

How do you know if someone has HIV?
It's hard to tell. Most people don't know that they have HIV. It can take up to three months before it shows up on a blood test. Sometimes it can take years before a person finds out. Some people only find out if they start getting sick a lot more often and go to a doctor to find out why. This is why it is important to see your doctor regularly and talk about things you are doing that may put you at risk of getting HIV. If you don't have a doctor and are concerned that you may have HIV or other sexually-transmitted infections, you can go to a local clinic and get tested. You can get tested for HIV anonymously as well. This means that no one will know the results of your HIV test but you and the clinic testing you (and they will not tell anyone). You can't tell whether someone has HIV just by looking at them.
Where can I get tested for HIV in Nova Scotia?
See your doctor or nurse practitioner, who will refer you for a special blood test.
If you want an anonymous HIV test in Nova Scotia, you can book one yourself at either of the two places below. An anonymous test means that you don't need to use a health card or other private information. You can even use a fake name.
Halifax Sexual Health Centre
(902) 455-9656
AIDS Coalition of Cape Breton
Sydney, NS
(902) 567-1766
Is there a cure for HIV/AIDS?
There is no vaccine for HIV.
There is no cure for AIDS. But there are treatments for HIV/AIDS that can help people live longer.
What about girls and women and HIV/AIDS?
Girls and women account for a growing proportion of new HIV infections in Canada.
Heterosexual sex accounts for more than half (57 per cent in 2007) of HIV infections in Canadian women compared to 21 per cent of HIV infections in Canadian men.
The majority of 15 to 19 year-olds who become infected with HIV are girls/women.
Some of the reasons women may be more vulnerable to HIV infection than men during heterosexual sex are:
• Biology: Women, especially young women, are more physically vulnerable to contracting HIV during heterosexual sex than men are. Girls and young women also have much higher rates of other sexually-transmitted infections (STI), such as chlamydia. Most women who have chlamydia have no symptoms and so don't know they have an STI and therefore don't seek treatment. Having an untreated STI such as chlamydia increases your chances of becoming infected with HIV during sex.
Gender roles and their effect on sexual decision making: Every society has an idea about how girls-women and boys-men are supposed to behave, eg., how we dress, the jobs we do in and outside of the home, the stuff we do in our spare time and this also applies to sex and sexual relationships. For example:
- Negotiating condom use: Women may not always feel comfortable asking their male partner to use a condom. This may be even more true for young women, whose sexual partners may be older than they are. Research has shown that the larger the age difference between the partners (older male, younger female), the more likely they are to have unprotected sex. Girls and women who use contraceptive pills may feel like they've "got it covered" and may be even less likely to use condoms.
- Partner's sexual health and activities: Some women may not feel comfortable asking their partner if they have an STI. Some women think that they are safe if they are in a sexually exclusive relationship with their partner but, world-wide, over 80 per cent of new infections in women occur among those who are married or in long-term relationships.
To help parents talk with their children and teens, the pamphlet, "Talking to Kids about HIV/AIDS" is available from the Sexual Health Centre for Cumb. Co., 11 Elmwood Dr., Amherst, NS (667-7500) or from Public Health (667-3319).
For more information about HIV/AIDS on the web:
http://www.catie.ca
For more information on HIV/AIDS and/or on child and youth sexuality, contact a local community resource such as the Sexual Health Centre for Cumberland County, 11 Elmwood Dr.., Amherst, 667-7500; the Dept. of Public Health at 18 S. Albion St., Amherst (667-3319), The Teen Health Centre (located in Amherst Regional High School), a program of the Amherst Association for Healthy Adolescent Sexuality (661-2383), Youth Health Centre (located in Springhill High - 597-4253), or your family doctor or nurse practitioner.
Parents, grandparents or other care givers can submit questions to this column: email shccc@ns.aliantzinc.ca.

Organizations: STI, Sexual Health Centre for Cumb, Teen Health Centre Amherst Regional High School Amherst Association for Healthy Adolescent Sexuality

Geographic location: Nova Scotia, Cape Breton, Sydney Amherst Canada Elmwood Cumberland County

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