This information is designed to help answer questions about the test for the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), the virus that can lead to AIDS.
Should you take the test?
HIV testing is important in order to know your HIV status (whether you are infected or not infected with HIV). If you find out that you have HIV, you can then take steps to remain healthy.
To make the decision to be tested, you need a clear understanding of what the test is and what the results mean. No matter what you decide, having safer sex and safer drug use will reduce the chances for putting yourself or someone else at risk for HIV infection. You can find out more by contacting ACT.
About the HIV Test
You may have heard this test referred to as an "HIV test", or an "AIDS test" but in fact it is a test for HIV antibodies. Antibodies are made by the body as a result of infection with HIV.
There are two types of HIV tests available in Ontario. The “Standard" HIV test involves taking a blood sample, which is then sent to the lab to be tested for the presence of HIV antibodies. It usually takes about two weeks for the test results to come back.
"Rapid" HIV testing is also available. This involves pricking your finger and testing your blood while you wait. The entire process, including counselling, takes about 20 minutes.
Since the HIV test looks for antibodies and not the actual virus, you need to wait until antibodies are made by your body. Antibodies can take from three to 12 weeks to show up in your blood after the time of infection. This period of time (from the time you are infected with HIV to the time when the antibodies appear in your blood) is often called the window period.
If you think you have been infected with HIV, but are in the window period, you can still get tested. Many people are diagnosed with HIV even if they have a test before the end of three months. Either way, it is best to be tested within a few weeks of an HIV high risk activity and if you have symptoms of HIV seroconversion such as:
- sore throat
- muscle pain
- swollen lymph nodes
Your test results
A confirmed positive test result means that you have been infected with HIV (you are HIV-positive [HIV+]) and you can pass the virus on to others if you have unprotected sex or share needles/works. It does not mean that you have AIDS or that you will develop it; it does not tell you anything else about the state of your health.
A negative test result means that there were no HIV antibodies in your blood at the time of your test, and you were not infected with HIV (you are HIV negative [HIV-]). It does not mean that you are immune to the virus or that you cannot become infected in the future.
What you can do if you test HIV-positive
If you find out that you have HIV, there are things that you can do to maintain your physical, mental and emotional health.
A health care provider who is knowledgeable about HIV can monitor your health and help you decide when to begin taking medications that can help fight HIV. AIDS service organizations such as ACT can provide a wide range of emotional and social support services, help you get more information about living with HIV, and refer you to other services in the city.
Practicing safer sex and/or safer drug use are also important. Not only will this reduce your chances of passing HIV on to others, but this will help reduce your chances of getting other infections that can be bad for your health.
Before you test... some things to consider
Your risks for HIV infection
Based on your own sexual or drug using history, counselling before you take the test will help you to assess the risks you have taken, and inform your decision to test. Ultimately, it is your choice whether or not to get tested for HIV.
Anonymous HIV testing
Anonymous HIV testing uses a number or a code on your test - not your name. Only you will know your test result, or even that you were tested. Anonymous testing is different from HIV tests performed by your doctor, or at certain clinics, where your HIV test results will be linked to your name. To find out the location of your nearest anonymous HIV testing site, check out this ACT webpage, or call the AIDS and Sexual Health Infoline at 1-800-668-2437.
Counselling before and after the test
Before the test, you need someone to answer all your questions, and make sure you know exactly what the test means, so that you can make an informed decision about testing. After the test, whether you test HIV-positive or HIV-negative, you need someone to help you be realistic about the results, and take effective steps to remain healthy.
Are you getting an HIV test for employment or insurance reasons?
No employer in Canada has the right to require HIV testing in order for you to get a job, nor can an employer demand information about your HIV status. However, insurance companies may require an HIV test in order to get coverage. If so, you might want to receive anonymous HIV testing and counselling first, and, if you find out that you are HIV-positive, withdraw your application to protect your confidentiality.
Are you pregnant?
All pregnant women in Ontario are offered HIV testing as part of their prenatal care. When pregnant women with HIV are diagnosed early, they can receive treatment for themselves which will help prevent mother-to-child HIV transmission. In the past, about 25 per cent of babies born to women with HIV were infected. With prenatal testing and treatment, fewer than two per cent of babies born to women with HIV are infected.
It's normal to feel anxious about getting an HIV test. Having a trusted friend, partner or family member come with you when you get tested and when you get your test results may help reduce some of the anxiety.
If you're unsure about testing, perhaps you may need more information or counselling to help you deal with the issues of testing and the possibility of an HIV-positive test result.
You can contact ACT to get more information or to speak with someone. Call 416-340-2437, visit our offices at 543 Yonge St. (4th floor).
To find out the location of your nearest anonymous HIV testing site, call the AIDS and Sexual Health Infoline at 416-392-2437 or Toll Free at 1 800 668-2437.