Eighty new cases of HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) were reported in Manitoba last year, bringing the estimated provincewide total to 2,100.
According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, approximately 25 per cent of people with the virus are unaware of their HIV status, and therefore go undetected and unreported.
"We try to impress upon people the importance of testing," said Dr. Sandra Allison, medical officer of health with Prairie Mountain Health. "The phrase that’s being thrown around is ‘know your status.’"
Manitoba is one of the top three provinces with the highest per capita rate of HIV cases, along with Saskatchewan and Yukon. In 2011, there were two new AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) cases in Manitoba, and three AIDS deaths.
To promote HIV/AIDS awareness, Prairie Mountain Health hosted a World Aids Day event at Brandon University on Friday, along with the Sexuality Education Resource Centre.
Today marks the 25th annual World AIDS Day, a day to remember those who have been lost to the disease, and to support all Canadians living with and affected by HIV/AIDS.
An estimated 65,000 Canadians are living with HIV, which is the virus that causes AIDS.
The virus attacks the body’s immune system, leaving it unable to fight certain infections. The only way to get HIV, is by having the virus enter the bloodstream. It can be transmitted through blood, vaginal fluids, semen and breast milk.
You can get HIV by having unprotected sex, sharing needles, razors or toothbrushes that have blood on them. HIV cannot be passed through casual contact such as hugging, kissing, shaking hands, sharing food or toilet seats.
As there is no cure, the best barrier to protect against HIV is using a latex condom.
Allison said to get tested for all sexually transmitted diseases, people need both a urine test and a blood test.
"If I only test your urine, it’s only half the job," she said.
Blood tests are required to diagnose HIV, syphilis and hepatitis.
If caught early, HIV doesn’t have to be a death sentence.
"The treatments have evolved so rapidly and they’re so effective now, that people that are living with HIV can expect to live almost a full life expectancy," Allison said. "They can live fruitful, productive lives. But without the diagnosis, the infection itself can be quite harmful, in fact fatal."
That’s why it’s so important people get tested, Allison said, so people understand their status, seek treatment and protect friends and family against any exposure.