The HIV antibody test (also known as the “AIDS test” or “HIV test”) tells whether or not you have been infected by HIV (the Human Immunodeficiency Virus).
Antibodies are produced by your immune system to help fight infections. The HIV test checks for these antibodies, not for the virus.
Antibody tests are faster, more accurate and cheaper to perform than viral tests. HIV antibodies will appear in a blood test within three months after you were infected.
There are a number of good reasons for knowing your HIV status. To begin with, if you test negative, it will set your mind at ease. It will also be an incentive to stay negative, and thus avoid passing HIV on to any of your partner(s).
If you do test positive, you can take action now to stay healthy. Combination therapies can slow down or even stop HIV activity. Your doctor can check your immune system and help you decide if you need to start treatment. Pregnant women who are HIV+ can take treatment to reduce the risk of passing HIV on to the fetus.
Some people have not tested because they feel well, and therefore think they can’t be infected. But keep in mind that it takes up to 10 years on average before HIV-related symptoms appear; in some cases even longer. You can only know for sure by testing.
Others are reluctant to test because they’re concerned about confidentiality. By testing anonymously, no one can find out your results, or know that you even tested in the first place.
Finally, some people put off testing because they think they won’t be able to deal with knowing they are HIV+. Testing positive can be a real crisis, but with information and support many HIV+ people can learn to cope.
A positive test means you have been infected and can pass on the virus to others. It does not tell when you were infected or how healthy you are.
A negative result means you have not been infected. But remember, it takes up to three months for your immune system to produce HIV antibodies. Therefore, you should wait three months after your last unsafe sexual or needle contact before getting tested to make sure your test is accurate.
Anybody who has had unprotected sex since 1980 has at least a theoretical chance of being infected. However, your risk could be greater if you or your partner(s) fall into one of these categories:
Note that sexual partners of the above are also at risk.
Keep in mind that you can’t tell if your partners are infected and they may not even know themselves. Heterosexual men and women as well as gay men can be infected. Don’t assume you have never been at risk just because you aren’t in a “high risk” group.
HIV is transmitted when blood, semen, pre-cum, vaginal fluid or breast milk from an infected person enters the blood stream of another person. Not every activity is the same risk. The most risky activities are: sharing needles and unprotected anal or vaginal sex.
Sharing sex toys may also be risky when another person’s fluid left on the toy is inserted into your body.
Other activities which are less risky, but not risk-free, include: performing oral sex and masturbating with your partner’s semen.
You can greatly reduce the chance of transmitting HIV (and have a good time too!) if you:
You need repeat testing if you have had unsafe sex or shared needles. You may also want the reassurance of testing annually even if your activities have been low risk (oral sex). If your regular sex partner is HIV+ you may feel reassured by testing every six to 12 months.
Some people think it’s a good idea to get regular HIV tests in case of false negatives. However, please be reassured that all HIV testing done at the ministry of health lab is very accurate.
There’s lots to think about before you test. A counsellor at a testing site can clear up misconceptions about what is really “high risk” and “low risk”, assess your personal risk history, and advise you whether it’s the right time for you to get tested. You might also want to talk about what you would do if you tested positive.
Some doctors and hospital staff may not have the time to talk over these issues or may not think it is even necessary to do so. That’s why it’s important to talk to a counsellor or other knowledgeable health care professional first, to make sure that testing is the right choice for you.
Finally, your doctor should never test you without getting your consent first.
Doctors are required by law to report the names of people who test positive to the local medical officer of health. Under anonymous testing however, reporting is done by number and cannot be traced back to you. Therefore, no one will know your test result unless you decide to tell them.
Anonymous testing uses a number or code instead of your name. if you test at an anonymous site no one can link you with your test results.
Many physicians offer a “non-nominal” testing system, using a number or your initials. This is not truly anonymous because if you test positive your doctor can still report your name to the health department.
In 1992 the provincial NDP government legalized anonymous testing and set up testing sites across the province. It also amended the law so that people testing positive under anonymous testing are reported by number only, therefore your identity is protected.
Anonymity allows you to talk more openly with the counsellor about your HIV risk history. It makes it easier for people at risk to get tested as soon as possible, which means faster access to testing and treatment. To find out about anonymous testing in your area, call your local AIDS agency, health department or the clinic.