Testing for HIV

The only way to know if you have HIV is to get tested.

Generally, any doctor’s office, clinic or hospital in Canada should be able to test you for HIV. Some clinics may take your blood right there, while others may send you to a blood lab site where there are lots of people getting all sorts of blood tests for different things.

There are also special HIV testing clinics across the country, where they do a lot of HIV testing and have received specific training on HIV/AIDS. AVI offers HIV and other STI testing clinics on Vancouver Island through our Prism Wellness program (prismwellness@avi.org) and through our Nanaimo clinic (250-754-9111).

In British Columbia the B.C. Centre for Disease Control has also implemented an innovative pilot program that lets patients sign up and get tested for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections online. For more information about this program go to www.getcheckedonline.com

The general procedure for an HIV test appointment usually goes something like this:

  • Pre-test counseling: A healthcare worker trained in HIV information will ask you some questions about why you feel you need the test, and what happened. They will use this information for two very important reasons: 1) so that they can offer you correct information and support about HIV and answer any questions you might have, and 2) so that they can record basic statistics for the local health authority on what is happening in the community regarding HIV risks. (NOTE: If you don’t feel comfortable talking about it, you can just say so. Simply remind them that you want the test. Remember – in Canada, HIV tests are a human right. Technically, nobody is allowed to make you feel uncomfortable about getting one, or is allowed to refuse you if you ask for one.)
  • Blood test: The healthcare worker will take a sample of your blood, likely either from your finger or arm depending on whether or not you are getting the rapid HIV test or the standard HIV test. If you are getting the rapid HIV test, which gives results in 60 seconds, and the test results are negative you don’t require any immediate further testing. If your test results is positive, then you will need a second blood test done, which will be sent to a laboratory. If you have received a test that needs to be sent away to a lab, it could take a few days before the results are ready. The healthcare worker will tell you to go home, and give you a date when you can come back for the results. They won’t typically give you results over the phone, but only in person – no matter what the results are.
  • Post-test counseling: When you are given your results, a healthcare worker will sit down with you and go over what was found in the blood test. They will explain what it means, and make sure you understand.
  • Not infected? They will probably take the opportunity to do some prevention education with you on safer sex and substance use to help you avoid another risk situation in the future.
  • Infected? They will offer you information on where you can go for HIV/AIDS medical and social support in town, and next steps. They will also help you to notify anyone – anonymously or not – that might have been exposed to HIV through you, so that they can get tested.