You should consider getting tested for HIV infection if you or your partner(s) have ever:
HIV testing is important for a couple of reasons:
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.
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 .
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.
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:
If you are concerned about anonymity and confidentiality, consider asking the following questions before you consent to be tested:
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 .
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:
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).