Why test?

It is important for women to feel empowered to take care of their sexual health. This includes finding out if they have a sexually transmitted infection (STI) or if they are infected with HIV and seeking proper treatment as needed.
Testing for HIV and STIs is important for a woman’s health, the health of her sexual partner/s and, if she or her partner is pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant.

In Ontario, women may be tested for sexually transmitted infections through their family physician, or by visiting a sexual health clinic. STI testing, it is important to note, does not automatically include an HIV test. Women who want an HIV test must request this specifically.

Being prepared

Making the decision to test for HIV is difficult. To make the decision to be tested, a clear understanding of the test and what the results mean is needed. It is also important to be prepared for the possibility of a positive test result. If a woman discovers that she is HIV-positive, a number of personal, relationship and social stresses are placed upon her. If a woman who is pregnant discovers she is HIV-positive as part of pre-natal care and screening, concerns and stressful decisions regarding the health of her child are added.

An HIV test is a blood test which looks for the presence of HIV or antibodies to HIV in the blood. Some HIV tests can detect the HIV virus itself, while others can detect antibodies.  Antibodies are produced in the body as a reaction to infection with HIV.

In Ontario, there are two ways an HIV test sample can be collected by your doctor or at a testing clinic: 

1) a sample of blood is taken from your arm with a needle and sent to the provincial lab to be tested for HIV. This is commonly known as standard testing and results are available in about one week.

2) a sample of blood is taken from your finger and the test is completed while you wait (about 30 minutes).  This testing, known as rapid testing, is available at 50 testing clinics across Ontario, and generally not available in your doctor’s office.

If you test Reactive on the rapid test, the clinic will ask you to provide a sample of blood from your arm for confirmatory testing by the provincial lab.  

 

When is the best time to get tested?

If you decide to test shortly after you think you might have been exposed to HIV, anytime earlier than three months after the exposure, and your result is negative, then you will be advised to test again. That’s because it may be too early for the HIV test to detect HIV in your blood, but that’s not the case for everybody. In Ontario, it is recommended that you get tested as soon as possible after an exposure to HIV: test right away, or at about 3 weeks after exposure, if you’re negative on that test, test again at six weeks, and if negative, test again at 3 months. The test at 3 months, if negative, confirms that you’re negative for that particular exposure.

How much personal identifying information is collected during an HIV test?

There are also differences in how much personal identifying information people may provide during HIV testing depending on the kind of testing they choose. In Ontario, people can test anonymously, non-nominally, and nominally:  

Anonymous

A woman can be tested without using her real name and no personal identifying information is collected, including an OHIP number, and an anonymous file is set-up to keep the HIV testing information separate from any other testing that may take place nominally.  While the tester may know the client, their test result cannot be linked back to their identity. This testing is available at 50 sites, primarily public health units and community health centres (not in doctor’s offices) throughout Ontario.

Non-nominally

The test is ordered using a code instead of the woman’s name, but the test result may be linked back to the woman’s nominal file. 

Nominally

The woman’s name and other personal identifying information is collected.

What does a positive test result mean?

A positive test result means that you have been infected with HIV. It means that you can transmit the virus to people if you have condom-less sex or share needles with them and, if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, you can transmit HIV to your infant. A positive test does not mean that you have AIDS and does not give you any information about the state of your health as someone with HIV.

HIV Testing and Pregnancy

Ontario’s prenatal HIV testing program includes HIV testing that is accompanied by comprehensive pre and post-test counselling for all pregnant women or women considering pregnancy as part of routine prenatal screening. This is because there are effective drugs that can significantly reduce HIV transmission from mother to infant.

HIV Testing and Immigration

Women moving through the immigration system will be given an HIV test as part of the immigration screening process. It is unclear whether comprehensive pre or post-test counselling is provided as part of this screening process. For more information on HIV testing through screening programs, contact your local HIV organization.

HIV Testing and Trans Women

Currently, data is not collected in Ontario about trans people and HIV. When completing an HIV test, the tester is required to select Male or Female on the lab requisition form. The tester may make that selection based on the gender presentation, health card or assumed genitals of the person being tested. The requisition form is changing in 2016. It is anticipated that the new requisition form will include trans persons in the section on gender. There is no consistency in how HIV data about trans people is collected, which means that we do not know how many trans women are living with HIV in Ontario. But, with the new form, we will be able to have a better understanding of how many trans women are living with HIV in Ontario.

To find a testing centre near you, contact your local AIDS service organization or use aso411.ca

For more information on HIV testing

A positive test does not mean that you have AIDS and does not give you any information about the state of your health as someone with HIV. 

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