Getting tested for HIV

If you know you have HIV, you can get the treatment and care you need to stay healthy and avoid passing it on to others.

If you think you may have been exposed to HIV, it is important to get tested.

The only way to know if you have HIV is to get tested. The HIV test is a simple blood test.


After HIV enters the body, it may take time before the test can detect the virus (this is known as the window period). Different HIV tests have different window periods. Some tests can detect HIV as early as 14 days and all tests give accurate results by three months.

Don’t wait. Speak to a health-care provider about getting tested for HIV as well as other STIs and hepatitis C.

You can’t tell whether you have been infected with HIV by how you feel.

Some people have flu-like symptoms when they first get infected (fever, sore throat or swollen glands). But some people have no symptoms at all.

You can have HIV and not know it.

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Treating HIV

There is no cure for HIV infection – at least, not yet. However, there are medications for treating HIV, called antiretroviral drugs. When used properly, these medications can all but stop HIV from replicating, allowing the immune system to retain (or rebuild) its strength and keep the body healthy.


HIV treatment means taking a combination of antiretroviral drugs. These drug combinations go by the names ART (antiretroviral therapy) or HAART (highly active antiretroviral therapy).

What do antiretroviral drugs do?

As long as HIV is left untreated, it continues to infect cells inside the body. It uses these cells to make millions of copies of itself, which then infect other cells, and so on. This process, called viral replication, eventually damages the immune system, and leaves the body vulnerable to serious diseases.

The goal of antiretroviral drugs is to block this replication process.

“Suppressing” HIV in this way allows the immune system to rebuild itself and become stronger.

Can someone with HIV still infect other people if they are taking antiretroviral drugs?

Yes, it’s still possible to transmit HIV during sex even when taking antiretroviral drugs. While it’s true that treatment may reduce the chances of transmitting HIV in some circumstances, there are many uncertainties involved. It’s unwise to think of HIV drug treatment as a replacement for safer sex.

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Protecting yourself from HIV

HIV and Sex

You can have sex with little or no risk of passing on or getting HIV. This is called safer sex.

Safer sex also helps protect you and your partner(s) from other STIs, such as gonorrhea and syphilis.


People can have HIV or other STIs without knowing it because these infections often do not cause symptoms. You could have HIV or another STI and not know it. Also, don’t assume that your partner know(s) whether they have HIV or any other STI. The only way to know for sure is to be tested.

To practise safer sex:

  • Use a latex or polyurethane condom correctly every time you have vaginal or anal sex.
  • Use only water-based or silicone-based lubricants. (Oil-based lubricants can make latex condoms break.)
  • Get tested for STIs regularly. Having an STI increases your risk of getting and passing on HIV.
  • Avoid sharing sex toys, and if you do, cover each one with a new condom before each use. It is also important to clean your toys between vaginal and anal use.
  • Use a condom or dental dam every time you have oral sex.
  • Choose forms of sexual stimulation that pose little or no risk for HIV, like masturbation or sensual massage.


HIV and Pregnancy

If you are HIV-positive and pregnant, proper HIV treatment and care can reduce the risk of your child being HIV-positive to less than 2 percent.

Talk with your healthcare provider to find out more.

If you are pregnant or thinking about getting pregnant, get tested for HIV. If you are HIV-positive, with proper treatment you can have a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby.


HIV and Drug Use

HIV can be passed on through shared needles and other drug equipment.

Sharing needles and other drug equipment is very risky.

Another virus called hepatitis C can also be spread when sharing drug equipment. Hepatitis C damages the liver. It is passed when the blood from someone who has hepatitis C gets into the bloodstream of another person.

Protect yourself and the people you do drugs with.

If you use drugs, there are things you can do to protect yourself and use drugs in a safer way. This is called harm reduction.

To practice safer drug use:

  • Use a clean new needle and syringe every time you use.
  • Use your own drug equipment (such as pipes, bills, straws, cookers, water, alcohol swabs) every time. Never share equipment, not even with your sex partner.
  • Get new needles and supplies from a harm reduction program, needle exchange or community health centre **HARP offers needle exchange services – please contact us for more information**
  • Get tested for HIV and hepatitis C. If you know that you have HIV or hepatitis C, you can take steps to protect yourself and others.

If you do not have access to a needle exchange:

  • As a last resort, your own needles can be cleaned before each time you use them, but it is still best not to share with other people. Cleaning means flushing the syringe twice with clean water, twice with bleach, and then twice with new water. Each flushing should last 30 seconds. This will kill HIV, but it will not protect you from hepatitis C.


For more information on Hepatitis C, visit the Hep Care Program website.

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How can you get HIV?

Only five body fluids can contain enough HIV to infect someone: blood, semen (including pre-cum), rectal fluid, vaginal fluid and breast milk.

HIV can only get passed when one of these fluids from a person with HIV gets into the bloodstream of another person – through broken skin, the opening of the penis or the wet linings of the body, such as the vagina, rectum or foreskin.

HIV cannot pass through healthy, unbroken skin.

The two main ways that HIV can get passed between you and someone else are:

  • through unprotected sex (anal or vaginal sex without a condom)
  • by sharing needles or other equipment to inject drugs (including steroids)

HIV can also be passed:

  • by sharing needles or ink to get a tattoo
  • by sharing needles or jewelry to get a body piercing
  • by sharing acupuncture needles
  • to a fetus or baby during pregnancy, birth or breast-feeding

HIV cannot be passed by:

  • talking, shaking hands, working or eating with someone who has HIV
  • hugs or kisses
  • coughs or sneezes
  • swimming pools
  • toilet seats or water fountains
  • bed sheets or towels
  • forks, spoons, cups or food
  • insects or animals

Anyone can be infected with HIV, no matter…

  • your age
  • your sex
  • your race or ethnic origin
  • who you have sex with


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What are HIV and AIDS?

HIV is a virus that can make you sick.

HIV (or Human Immunodeficiency Virus) weakens your immune system, your body’s built-in defense against disease and illness.


Anyone can be infected with HIV. You can have HIV without knowing it. You may not look or feel sick for years, but you can still pass the virus on to other people.

Without HIV treatment, your immune system can become too weak to fight off serious illnesses. HIV can also damage other parts of your body. Eventually, you can become sick with life-threatening infections.

This is the most serious stage of HIV infection, called AIDS (or Acquired ImmunoDeficiency Syndrome).

There is no vaccine to prevent HIV.

There is no cure for HIV – but there is treatment.

There is no cure for HIV, but with proper care and treatment, most people with HIV can avoid getting AIDS and can stay healthy for a long time.

Anti-HIV drugs have to be taken every day. They cannot get rid of HIV but they can keep it under control.

For more on HIV treatments, please see “Treating HIV

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