What is HIV and how is it transmitted?
HIV is an infection caused by a virus that attacks the body’s immune system. It is most commonly transmitted through anal, vaginal and front hole sex without a condom.
HIV may also be transmitted when injecting drug users share needles or unsterilized equipment. In rare cases, it is transmitted through transfusion of infected blood.
What are the symptoms of HIV?
HIV infection can cause a flu like illness a few weeks after infection. After this, people living with HIV usually remain symptom free for many years.
However, as their immune system becomes weaker they are less able to fight common infections, which can become serious. People living with HIV are more likely to develop certain cancers, as the immune system plays a role in preventing cancer development.
In its final stage, HIV infection will develop into AIDS. This is when the immune system is so weak that it is unable to fight most infections, so common conditions could become fatal.
Modern HIV treatment is highly effective. Although it cannot cure HIV infection it can keep people well. With the right treatment people who are HIV positive have normal lifespans. HIV treatment also reduces the risk of passing on HIV infection.
How is HIV treated?
Currently there is no cure for HIV, but there are treatments that enable most people to live a long and healthy lives. Most treatments for HIV involve taking antiviral medications. If your result is positive/reactive, our recommended sexual health providers can answer your questions about potential treatment if a positive result is confirmed. See here for our recommended list of healthcare providers.
How is HIV prevented?
The best defense against HIV is Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis or PrEP for short. PrEP is a medication taken once a day to prevent someone from becoming infected with HIV. Other ways to prevent HIV transmission include Treatment as Prevention (TasP) in HIV+ partners and condom use or a combination of any of the three strategies.
Condoms are an effective way to prevent HIV/STI transmission. Regular STI testing every time you change sexual partner helps to prevent the spread of infections
PrEP- Pre-Exposure Prohylaxis (PreP)
Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis or PrEP for short, is a pill that HIV negative people can take to reduce the risk od contracting HIV during sexual encounters. When PrEP is taken consistently (every single day), it can be as effective as 99% or more. There have been several large studies on guys taking PrEP that have repeatedly shown that the risk of HIV is reduced by around approximately 90% even if a dose or two are missed per week. PrEP is the best defence against HIV and is far more efficacious than using condoms alone but can be used along with condoms for even greater protection from other STIs.
PEP- Post-Exposure Prophylaxis, or PEP, is a course of treatment for individuals who are HIV negative and may have been exposed to HIV, either through occupational (i.e. workplace incidents, needlesticks) or non-occupational exposure (i.e. condom less sex, injection drug usage).
The treatment involves a combination of anti-HIV medications (called “antiretroviral therapy” taken everyday for 28 days. The antiretroviral medications work by interfering with the way in which the virus multiplies in the body causing lifelong infection with HIV.
In order for the meds to be as effective as possible, the course of treatment needs to be initiated within 72 hours of the potential exposure. Anyone who feels they have been exposed to HIV and the incident is within the 72 hour mark should contact the sexual health clinic or visit the nearest emergency room at your local hospital.
PEP should not be used as part of an individual’s preventative measure strategy. This is an emergency treatment when there is an accidental exposure. For a preventative measure strategy prior to exposure, Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) is recommended. For more information on PrEP
Because PEP is an emergency treatment, the course of treatment is administered by your healthcare provider. If you feel you have been exposed to HIV, go see your provider or emergency department / clinic as soon as possible. Make sure to ask your provider if they can assess your level of HIV risk and prescribe PEP. PEP should only be taken by individuals who are HIV negative should be monitored for side effects. In the rare circumstances that they occur, then your provider can give you information on how to manage those accordingly.
Undetectable Viral Load
Viral load refers to the amount of HIV in the blood of a person living with HIV. HIV treatment can reduce the amount of HIV in the blood to a level too low to be measured by a viral load test. At that point, a person’s viral load is said to be undetectable. For most people, this occurs after taking HIV treatment for three to six months.
Having an undetectable viral load does not mean you are cured of HIV. The virus is still in the body. If you stop taking HIV treatment or miss too many doses, HIV will start replicating again and the viral load will once again become detectable.
The evidence is in. If you are HIV+, take treatment and maintain an undetectable viral load, you can have sex knowing that you won’t pass HIV to your sex partner.
In short, when HIV is undetectable, it’s untransmittable (U=U).
Why should I get tested for HIV?
If you think you may have been exposed to HIV in the last three days, you should go to your local sexual health clinic immediately to get PEP. PEP is a medication that can prevent infection even after exposure, if taken within 72 hours.
The sooner that you start this medication, the more likely it is to be effective. Many people carry HIV without knowing it. If you have had unprotected sex, particularly if you have changed partners, are a man who has sex with men, or have multiple partners, you should take a regular HIV test.
Frequently Asked Questions
We understand you may have questions about HIV testing! No question is too basic – trust us, we have been answering all sorts of questions!
The list below will give you some more information about the GetaKit project, the device we use, and what to do when you get your result.
If you want more information about HIV, risk, transmission, or prevention you can read about it here.
Registering a GetaKit by The Aids Network account
Do I need a mobile/cell phone to register an account?
If you don’t have a mobile/cell phone, you can still register for a GetaKit account with an email and a landline.
Can I delete my account?
If you made an account but haven’t ordered a kit yet, you can delete your account. If you have ordered a kit, you aren’t able to delete you account, but you can withdraw from the project. Email [email protected] directly to request this.
Ordering an HIV self test from GetaKit by The AIDS Network
What comes in a GetaKit kit?
When you order your HIV self-test kit you will receive a package that includes:
- 1 HIV self-test device which comes with
- Instructions on how to use the kit
- 3 bottles of labelled solutions
- 1 lancet
- 1 test device
- 1 bandage
- Additional resource documents
All this comes in a compact, discrete package that folds out into a workstation to organize all the pieces of the HIV self-test. It will also include contact details for local services in case you need extra support.
- 1 HIV self-test device which comes with
What test does GetaKit use?
GetaKit by The AIDS Network uses the bioLytical INSTI HIV self-test, which was approved by Health Canada on November 2, 2020. The INSTI® HIV Self -Test is the only self-test for HIV now licensed in Canada, taking one minute to produce highly accurate results (> 99% accurate); a “positive” test result must still be confirmed with a laboratory test available in the health system.
If you’ve received a rapid/point-of-care HIV test before, this device is very similar. You’ll use the lancet provided to poke your finger for a drop of blood. You then follow the instructions included in your kit to complete the test and read the result. This test detects HIV antibodies, which is your body’s response to HIV.
How accurate is the HIV self-test?
Research has confirmed that the self-test is very accurate and can produce the same results as the point-of-care (rapid) HIV test that is given by trained healthcare providers.
How long will I wait for a result?
Once each solution has been added, the result should be visible within 1 minute!
You ordered your kit
How soon will it be delivered?
Once you’ve ordered your kit, barring any unforeseen delays, your kit should arrive to your door in 24-48 hours. In the cold winter months, kits can’t be left outside, so you may have to pick them up at your local Canada Post counter.
Can I change my delivery address after I have ordered a kit?
If you have completed your order but need to update your shipping address, you can make the change in your account. You should email [email protected] to let them know.
If your kit has shipped, you won’t be able to change the shipment address. If possible, you should try to collect your item from the address used at checkout.
What if my kit does not arrive?
If after a few days, your kit doesn’t arrive, email [email protected] and we will look into it for you.
How should the HIV self-test be stored?
The kit should be stored at room temperature (2-30°C), and doesn’t have to go in the fridge. It has a shelf-life of approximately 15 months. We encourage you to use the kit and report your result on the GetaKit by The AIDS Network website within a week of receiving it. To do this, please log back into your account to record your result. If after two weeks we don’t see any account activity, we may send a nudge to make sure everything is ok.
Can I perform the HIV self-test on someone else?
Consent and willingness to take the test are very important. Whoever is taking the test, whether it’s you, your partner, your friend, your relative, or someone else, everyone should understand what the test is for and not feel pressure to do it. For the purposes of the GetaKit project, no one under the age of 16 is able to participate.
If you have any questions or concerns about coercive testing contact HALCO.
How will I know if my test was done correctly?
A dot should appear at the top under the ‘C’. This is the ‘control dot’ and means the test worked. If there is no blue dot in the control area (under the ‘C’), the result is INVALID and the test did not work. Please report this result on your account and order a new test.
When valid, the test will produce one or two BLUE DOTS
If only one blue dot appears under the C, this means the test is negative.
If a second blue dot appears below the control dot, this means the test is positive. The dot may appear lighter in colour or look the same.
I have my result
I have my result, now what?
When you have your result, you can report it by logging into your account. Go to your dashboard then click on Section 3 Report result and select the required option.
- If your result is positive, a The AIDS Network staff will follow-up with next steps or you can connect with them directly at: [email protected] who will guide you in navigating access to care.
- If your result is negative, a The AIDS Network staff may reach out to you to talk about PrEP and other HIV/STI Prevention tools
- If your test is invalid, which means that you did not see the control dot at the top, or your kit has not functioned properly. Please contact GetaKit and we will send another kit to you.
My result is positive, do I have to tell my healthcare provider?
It’s important to be open with your provider about your HIV status so they can support your health and wellness going forward. Your healthcare provider can also help with referrals to other services as necessary.
My result is positive, do I have to tell my partner?
It is important to know your HIV status to take care of your health, but it is also important for you to know about the laws that might impact people living with HIV. Legally, you do not have tell most people that you are living with HIV, but it can be considered a crime not to tell a sexual partner. To better understand the law, contact the HIV & AIDS Legal Clinic Ontario (HALCO). If you test positive for HIV, it is important for you to understand your rights and how the law impacts you before you disclose your status.