There are a number of different ways you can get tested for HIV. Most often, a HIV tests requires blood to be drawn and sent to a lab for testing (called serologic testing). The tests look for the presence of HIV antibodies (your body’s defence reaction to the HIV virus) in your blood. It can take from one to two weeks to receive the result from your HIV test.
You have the option to request a nominal or non-nominal HIV test. A nominal HIV test means that if your test comes back positive, your full name will be reported to the Medical Health Officer (in BC, HIV is a reportable disease and all positive test results must be reported to the Medical Health Officer). A non-nominal HIV test means that if your test comes back positive, only your first name, initials and date of birth will be reported to the Medical Health Officer.
Testing using an alias (a made up name) or only your initials is available at certain testing sites in BC. To find a clinic offering this type of testing, visit the SmartSexResource clinic finder.
How to get tested for HIV
Visit a HIV testing clinic near you
There are a number of HIV testing clinics where you can have an HIV test either by appointment or by drop-in. Check the SmartSexResource clinic finder to find the location of a clinic near you.
Talk to your health care provider
The new BC HIV Testing Guidelines (.pdf) recommend that health care providers know the HIV status of all patients under their care. This means that an HIV test should be offered:
- Routinely, every five years, to all patients aged 18-70 years.
- Routinely, every year, to all patients aged 18-70 years who belong to populations with a higher burden of HIV infection.
- Once at age 70 or older if the patient’s HIV status is not known
While receiving treatment at an acute care hospital
HIV testing in acute care hospitals was piloted successfully in Vancouver Coastal Health Authority. HIV testing will soon be offered to all patients who are admitted to an acute care hospital within Island Health Authority.
Rapid HIV testing
A rapid HIV test, also known as a Point of Care (POC) HIV test, is an HIV screening test that can be performed on-site while a client waits. The tester will poke the client’s finger and collect a small sample of blood which is screened for the presence of HIV antibodies. Those who screen non-negative must have a blood draw to confirm the result; however, those who screen negative will have their results within minutes. To find a clinic offering POC HIV testing near you, visit the SmartSexResource clinic finder and from the “Offering this Service” drop-down menu, select “HIV Testing (Point of Care)."
Two community pharmacies are currently offering POC HIV testing as part of a pilot project funded by Island Health. You can visit the Medicine Shoppe Pharmacy at 1964 Fort Street in Victoria or 1150 Terminal Park Avenue in Nanaimo for a free and confidential POC HIV test.
Note: if you are worried about a possible exposure to HIV within the last three (3) months, a POC HIV test is not the best option as it cannot detect HIV in the earliest stages of infection. Talk to your health care provider about serologic testing instead. It is important to get tested as soon as possible following a possible exposure to HIV as it is easiest to spread to others in the earliest stages of infection.
Anonymous HIV Testing
Anonymous HIV testing is currently available at the Victoria Health Unit STI Clinic as part of a pilot project run by the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC). Anonymous HIV testing links a person to their test result using a numbered code that only they know. No identifiable or contact information is collected and the person being tested must provide their code in order to receive their result.
What happens if my HIV test is positive?
A positive result on a HIV test means you have HIV. You may experience shock or denial about the diagnosis. However, with appropriate treatment, HIV is now considered a chronic disease – it is no longer a death sentence.
There are a few important steps you can take following your diagnosis:
- Try to find a doctor or nurse practitioner who has experience treating HIV. One of Island Health’s Communicable Disease Nurses can help link you to care.
- Eat properly, exercise, and get enough rest. Quit smoking and limit how much alcohol you drink.
- You may want to talk to someone about your HIV diagnosis. If you are in distress, you can call the 24-hour Vancouver Island Crisis Line at 1-888-494-3888.
- Talk to a health care provider about ways to prevent spreading HIV to others, especially if you were diagnosed soon after infection. The amount of virus in your body is very high during the early stages of infection so practicing safer sex is even more important during this time.
- Let any recent sexual partners know that they should consider getting tested for HIV. If you are uncomfortable, a Communicable Disease Nurse or other health care provider can help deliver this news.