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Get Tested for HIV

You should consider getting tested for HIV infection if you or your partner(s) have ever:

  • had sex - especially anal or vaginal intercourse - without using a latex or polyurethane condom or other protective barrier
  • had sex while under the influence of alcohol or drugs (you might not have used protection)
  • tested positive for another sexually transmitted and blood-borne infection (e.g. syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, etc.)
  • shared needles, syringes or other drug use equipment (e.g., water, cotton filters, cookers, pipes, straws) when using drugs, including steroids
  • had tattooing, piercing or acupuncture with unsterilized equipment
  • had a blood transfusion or received other blood products before November 1986

Why should I be tested?

HIV testing is important for a couple of reasons:

  • if the result is "negative," you may experience less stress and anxiety in your life and can learn more about how to reduce your risk of becoming infected
  • if the result is "positive," you can get early treatment to stay healthy and take precautions to avoid transmitting HIV to others (if you are pregnant, early treatment will also reduce the chances of your baby getting HIV)

How do I get tested?

How does the test work?

An HIV test is a simple blood test that detects whether or not you have HIV antibodies in your blood (antibodies are produced by our immune system to destroy viruses; however, the antibodies we produce to fight HIV are not able to destroy HIV). These antibodies may take three to six months to appear in your blood after you are exposed to HIV. If you are tested during this "window period" and the result is negative, you will have to be re-tested later to be absolutely certain that you are not infected with HIV.

Before you take the test, a nurse or counsellor will speak to you in private. They will ask you why you want to take the test, when and how you think you were exposed to HIV, and whether you have any questions about the test. Pre-test counselling is also an opportunity to receive accurate information about HIV and to talk about the implications of the test result, particularly if positive. Remember that it is your choice to get tested, and you must give your consent in writing.

If you agree to get tested, a small sample of blood is taken from your arm and sent to a lab. If no HIV antibodies are detected, and it has been six months since you might have been exposed to HIV, your test is negative, which means you do not have HIV infection. It does not mean that you are immune to HIV infection.

If HIV antibodies are detected, a second and different test is done on the same sample to confirm the result. A positive test means that you have tested positive for the HIV virus, and are therefore HIV-positive. It does not mean that you have AIDS. If the result of this second test is "indeterminate," you will need to be re-tested (give another blood sample), usually about one month later. Indeterminate test results are rare.

If a positive result is confirmed by the second test, you may be advised to inform your sexual or drug-using partners. You should also find out as soon as possible how to access treatment and counselling services.

When should I get tested?

Anyone who engages in risky behaviour should be tested.

Since the human body takes three to six months to produce enough HIV antibodies to be detectable by a blood test, you should get tested no sooner than three months after the last time you engaged in risky behaviour. In the meantime, it is important to practice safe sex (or to abstain) and to not share injecting equipment. HIV-positive people are most "infectious" (able to transmit the virus to another person) during the three- to six-month window period, which means that you could infect someone else with HIV before even knowing that you are infected.

HIV-positive pregnant women are also at risk of passing HIV on to their babies. If you are HIV-positive and become pregnant, or are pregnant and are engaging in risky behaviour, it may not be appropriate to wait for three to six months to have an HIV test. In this case, a viral load test, rather than an antibody test, may be ordered by your physician to help you make more informed decisions. For more information about HIV testing in pregnancy, please visit the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada External site.

Treatments are available to HIV-positive pregnant women to help reduce the risk of passing the virus onto your baby. Consult your doctor or health care professional for more information.

People who consider testing for HIV should also test for other sexually transitted infections.

For more information on testing, visit the Web site of the Canadian Health Network.

HIV Testing: Anonymous or Confidential?

It’s important to note that HIV testing is not automatically anonymous - you will need to find a site that offers this service if you want an anonymous test.

Anonymous testing is usually free and protects you from risks of discrimination, including in applications for insurance (sometimes even taking an HIV test, regardless of the result, can cause an insurance application to be refused).

Having an anonymous test means that only you will know you took the test and what the result was. The only identification is a code or name that is assigned by clinic staff. Although your name is not revealed, the result of your test may be reported to public health units in some provinces.

If you give your name when having an HIV test, the test and results are confidential, not anonymous. Confidential tests may be:

  • nominal, in which case your name will appear on the test form and the test result. The test result will be made available to your doctor or health care provider and entered in your medical record. In some places, the test result may also be reported to the public health authorities.
  • non-nominal, in which case a code is used instead of your name. Only you and the doctor know to whom the code refers.

If you are concerned about anonymity and confidentiality, consider asking the following questions before you consent to be tested:

  • Will the test request form have my name on it?
  • Will the test result have my name on it?
  • Will the test result be recorded in my medical record?
  • Will my test result be reported to the public health authorities?

Finding A Testing Centre

To learn more about your HIV testing options, or to locate a testing centre in or near your community (including anonymous test sites), call your provincial/territorial HIV/AIDS hotline.

You can also contact a local AIDS service organization External site.

Provincial/Territorial HIV/AIDS Hot Lines

British Columbia:
811 or 1-604-215-8110
Newfoundland and Labrador:
New Brunswick:
Northwest Territories:
Eastern Arctic:
Nova Scotia:
Ontario: English:
Prince Edward Island:
Hotline for women living with HIV/AIDS in Quebec:
1-800-661-0408, x 8323
After the Test

After the Test

Post-test counselling is recommended after an HIV test - whether the result was negative or positive.

In the case of a negative test, post-test counselling provides the opportunity for a physician or other health care provider to explain the results of the test, alleviate any anxiety you may be feeling, and discuss how you can reduce your risk of HIV infection in the future.

In the case of a positive test, counselling is an opportunity to receive support, to improve your understanding of the disease and its implications, and to arrange for appropriate medial and social care that can help you avoid HIV/AIDS-related illnesses and maintain a healthy, active lifestyle.

For people living with HIV infection, post-test counselling is not a one-time event but should be ongoing. It can help you:

  • cope with the psychological, social and economic consequences of HIV infection
  • learn how to improve your health and well being
  • learn how to prevent further infections for yourself and others
  • arrange to notify partners with whom you have had unprotected sex or shared needles that you are infected with HIV and encourage them to be tested
  • decide if and to whom to disclose your HIV status (e.g., to your family, friends, employer, etc.)
  • empower you to take control of your own health and improve your quality of life
  • improve family and community relationships
  • keep up-to-date on new developments in the management of HIV infection
  • find a support group for people with HIV infection
  • if you are a woman, understand the risks associated with pregnancy
  • if you are pregnant, reduce the risk of transmitting HIV to your baby

After a positive test, you should inform any doctor or dentist who treats you that you are infected with HIV. Speak to your health care professional about donation options (ie, sperm, organs).

For additional information on HIV/AIDS counselling, call your provincial/territorial HIV/AIDS hotline or contact a local AIDS service organization External site.