When should I get tested? Many people who have a sexually transmitted or blood borne infection (STBBI) don’t have any symptoms at all. The only way to know for sure if you or your partner(s) have one is to get tested. It’s important to make testing a part of your regular health routine!
Perhaps this means you go every three, six or twelve months. You can get tested whenever you feel you might have been at risk (like, if you had unprotected oral, vaginal or anal sex), if you notice any symptoms, if your partner has been diagnosed with an STI, if you have started a new relationship or if it’s simply been a while. It is wise to diagnose and treat STIs early as it can prevent complications and make sure you don’t pass them on to your partner(s).
Where can STI tests be done?
The Sexual Health Clinic
Sexual health clinics provide free, confidential testing and diagnosis for STIs and HIV, and treatment for most STIs. You can also get tested for HIV, get safer sex tips and supplies, as well as birth control counseling.
Your family doctor or the GP
Family doctors and general practitioners (GP) at walk-in clinics, campus health facilities, community health centres etc. provide free, confidential testing and diagnosis for STIs and HIV, and treatment for most STIs.
Can I get an anonymous STI test?
For lots of different reasons, some of us want a very high level of privacy when getting tested for STIs. Service providers who test you for STIs are aware that they may be handling sensitive information and will walk you through the testing process to address what may be making you anxious (like people knowing about it or how to tell your partner(s) if a test comes back positive).
For the most part, STI testing is done confidentially (not anonymously). See HIV testing below to understand the difference. Some of them are reportable.
What are reportable STBBIs?
A reportable disease is one that has to be reported to the public health authorities when it is diagnosed. These stats are an important tool for public health officials to detect trends and track outbreaks. Reporting requirements are mandated by provincial legislation and the list of reportable diseases differs by province/territory. Generally, for STBBIs, the list may include:
HIV and AIDS
Hepatitis A, B, and C
Should I be worried? Will everyone know?
“I tested positive for a sexually transmitted infection (STI)! Does this mean my name will be kept on a government list?” The quick answer is no. If today you test positive for chlamydia, your identity and confidentiality are safe. What will happen is that the public health unit in your area will be notified that there was a new case diagnosed. The local health department adds up all new diagnoses of chlamydia and sends them to the Public Health Agency of Canada, which will combine stats to report the number of new chlamydia cases across the country.
Typically, if you get diagnosed with a reportable STI, the public health unit will try to track down the people you have had sex with so they can be notified of having been potentially exposed and help them access testing and treatment too. This is called partner notification.
This process is confidential. For example, if a public health worker calls your ex to let them know that they may have been exposed to chlamydia, your name will not be used. If you’d prefer to notify your partner(s) yourself, they can also help you figure out how to start this conversation.
Knowing our HIV status (negative or positive) is an important way to take care of ourselves and our health. It has significant health benefits so making HIV testing a part of our health care routine is important.
You have options when it comes to getting tested for HIV!
All types of HIV testing should include pre- and post-test counselling and referrals to other services and supports.
Different types of HIV tests
Point of Care HIV Testing (or Rapid Testing)
Point of Care HIV Testing (or Rapid Testing) is done by pricking your finger and testing your blood while you wait. If you test negative (the test can’t pick up antibodies for the HIV virus) you receive your results immediately. If you test reactive (or the test result is uncertain) the clinic will take a blood sample and send it to the public health laboratory for standard testing. It can take up to 2 weeks to get the final results and you will have to return to the clinic to get your results.
The Standard Test
The Standard Test uses a small sample of blood taken from a vein in your arm. The blood sample is sent to a lab for testing and results come back 1-3 weeks later. Usually, you need to go back to the doctor’s office/clinic to get the results.
Prenatal HIV Testing Program
Prenatal HIV Testing Program Canada’s provinces and territories have different rules around prenatal testing but HIV testing is important when someone is pregnant. If you are pregnant and are HIV+, you can take important steps to stay healthy and to prevent the baby from being infected with the virus.
How is information recorded?
There are three possible ways that you can get tested for HIV
When you take an anonymous test, your name or your identity is not requested, recorded or reported. You are given a code to receive your results.
Although anonymous HIV testing sites do not ask for your name, they do ask for information about your age, sex, and risk factors. It gives public health officials really important data that is used to help understand how HIV is spreading.
The fact that you got tested and test results are not added to your health care record. It is only you who can decide to give your name and include the HIV test result in your medical record. If your test is positive, when you begin receiving treatment and care for HIV, this information will be recorded in your medical chart and your result will no longer be anonymous.
Depending on where you are, you may be able to access anonymous testing in some sexual health and specialized clinics. To help you find a site that offers anonymous testing (or to know if it is available in your province), contact your local AIDS Service organization or public health.
Nominal/name-based HIV testing
Nominal/name-based HIV testing is offered in many places like health care clinics and offices (like your family doctor). The test is ordered under your name and you may be asked for information like possible HIV risk factors.
If the HIV test result is positive, your health care provider is required by law to notify public health officials in your region of a positive test as they track important data on HIV infections on an anonymous basis. The test result is recorded in your health care record. This should be treated as confidential information.
Non-nominal/non-identifying HIV testing
Non-nominal/non-identifying HIV testing is similar to nominal testing but the test is ordered using a code or your initials. It does not include your full name. If the HIV test result is positive, your health care provider is required by law to notify public health officials in your region of a positive test result as they track important data on HIV infection on an anonymous basis. The test result is recorded in your health care record. This should be treated as confidential information.
If you test positive for HIV
Testing positive for HIV can be overwhelming. There are a lot of myths and misinformation about HIV out there, so it can feel like big news to digest with lots of information to sift through. It’s important to remember that you are not alone and that there are a lot of support systems in place that can help you figure out what’s next.
As a first step, your local AIDS organization can help you access the information, support and care you need.
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