“Can Cats Get AIDS?”

“Can Cats Get AIDS?” 

Questions Your Kids Ask Me and Other Stories from the Road.

Well, can cats get AIDS?

The answer is “yes” and “no”.

There is a virus that affects cats in a similar way as HIV in humans. It is called the feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), which attacks the feline immune system and can potentially lead to a compromised immune system at risk for various opportunistic infections akin to what we understand as AIDS in humans. However, this virus is only transmitted among felines and there is no risk of infecting humans.

As the Director of Education Programs at AIDS NB, I focus on campaigns that better educate the public about sexually transmitted and blood borne infections (STBBIs). These campaigns range from awareness, to health literature distribution, to research, and to, most notably, very animated presentations in schools and professional workplaces. During these presentations, I am tasked with describing the various STBBIs that are a potential risk to New Brunswickers and then demonstrate how to use barrier methods—which involves me whipping out a penis shaped piece of wood and giving a tasteful external condom demonstration then following up with a Pinterest-esque DIY dental dam.

After the presentations, I’m an open book to students/parents/other enthusiastic audience members and their eager, sometimes embarrassing (for them; I have no shame) questions. The questions are sometimes thinly veiled “so I have this friend, but it’s secretly me, do I—uh, I mean does ‘my friend’ have gonorrhea?” scenarios. Others are genuinely curious about the science and the way we understand the propagation of disease, for example: “Can mosquitos transmit HIV, like they pass along malaria and other tropical diseases?”—no, they cannot. I also get the occasional attempt to be deliberately offensive so to garner giggles from fellow peers—usually a young boy who pokes at his friend and screams: “If I touch Billy’s butt, will I get AIDS?” my response is typically very short and unreactive: “No, you can’t transmit AIDS, but if you have anal sex with somebody who is HIV positive without PrEP and/or a barrier method, then there is a risk for HIV transmission”.

However, on a less funny note, the questions that I get the most are very telling of the state of sex education in New Brunswick. From parents, teachers, and children alike, I am asked questions about the basic functions of human anatomy, for example: a lot of people are unaware that one does not urinate from the vagina or clitoris (it’s the urethra from which urine flows, btw). Parents have shared with me that they did not consent to the HPV vaccine for their child because of a communication failure between educational institutions, public health, and the parent; not taking into account the various degrees of health literacy across the province. Though it is not at all our mandate, I am frequently asked about pregnancy and birth control methods. This alarms me. Though I know
a great number of things regarding sexual health, I am but a guest speaker who should only have to educate individuals about the very specific topic of STBBIs—the fact that most individuals are missing the basics shows that there is a gap in preventative care and education between the professionals and the members of our community.

With that said however, I try to be prepared when on the road; to be asked a number of questions that are completely relevant (regardless of how outlandish they may seem) or irrelevant, because knowledge is power!
If you or someone you know is curious about sexual health and/or safer drug use practices, please feel free to call 1-800-561-4009 or e-mail at education@aidsnb.com. Remember, no question is too silly and we’ll never judge.