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HIV self-test: What you need to know

​​​The HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) self-test is a safe and reliable way to test yourself for HIV. It means you can get your own test, do the test yourself, and get your results right away—like a home pregnancy test. You don’t have to go to a clinic or doctor’s office to get tested.

How does the HIV self-test work?

The HIV self-test uses a drop of your blood to check for HIV antibodies. HIV antibodies are proteins the body makes after a person becomes infected with HIV. It does not test for HIV itself.

To do the test, you need to follow the instructions that come with the test kit. Use the materials in the test kit to prick your finger to get 1 drop of blood. You can read your result right away. The whole test takes about 1 minute to do.

How do I know if I should take the test?

Take the HIV self-test if you think you’ve been exposed to HIV. You may decide to test yourself often or only once in a while—it’s your decision. Some people may choose not to do an HIV self-test.

Where can I get an HIV self-test?

You can get an HIV self-test kit:

  • at Alberta pharmacies (starting December 2020 to January 2021)
  • online (Be sure the test is approved by Health Canada or check with a healthcare provider before you buy.)

How well does the test work?

According to a Canadian study, the HIV self-test is over 99% correct (accurate). You need to read and follow all the test instructions carefully to get an accurate result.

Could the test result be wrong?

There is a small chance of getting a false positive (a person who does not have HIV gets a positive test result) or a false negative (a person with HIV gets a negative result) using the HIV self-test. If you aren’t sure about your self-test result or you can’t read your result, go to a clinic or contact your healthcare provider.

Certain medicines and health conditions could also affect your test result. You could get a false negative self-test result if:

  • You’ve been on long-term antiretroviral treatment.
  • You have a very serious blood disorder, such as multiple myeloma.
  • You have higher than normal hemoglobin (a protein in red blood cells).

Read the test kit instructions before you take the test to know if any other medicines or health conditions can affect your test result.

How soon can the self-test detect HIV?

It can take up to 3 months after you’ve been exposed to HIV to get enough antibodies for the self-test to detect them. This is called the window period. You can do a self-test starting 3 weeks after you’ve been exposed, but you need to get a negative result after the window period to be sure it’s correct. Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) is a way to help prevent HIV from being transmitted to an HIV-negative person who may have been exposed to the virus. You must start PEP within 72 hours of being exposed. This is different from pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), which you start taking before and continue taking after being exposed to HIV. If you think you need PEP, go to your nearest emergency department or a sexual health clinic right away.

Where should I take the test?

If you do an HIV self-test, choose a place where you feel comfortable and safe. You may want to do the test alone, or you may want someone you trust to be with you. It’s your choice.

Before you take the test, think carefully about if you want someone to see your results at the same time as you. Plan ahead and know who to contact if you need help or information to deal with your results.

When can I read my result?

You can read your test result right away after taking the HIV self-test. Don’t wait longer than 1 hour to read your result. Make sure you follow the test directions for how to read your result. If you can’t read your test result, call your healthcare provider or go to a clinic for more testing.

Is my test result private (confidential)?

Your HIV self-test result is private. You don’t have to tell anyone your test result. And because you’re doing the test yourself, public health will not know your result.

If you get a positive self-test result, you should go to a clinic or your healthcare provider to get a laboratory blood test to check (confirm) your result. If your result is confirmed positive, the result will be reported to public health. This is to make sure you and your partner or partners get support and treatment. Learn more about your privacy and reporting sexually transmitted infections in Alberta.

What should I do if my test result is negative?

There is a small chance of getting a false negative result. If your self-test result is negative, but you think you have been exposed to HIV in the past 3 months, it’s best to test yourself again 3 months after being exposed.

You can also talk to your healthcare provider about taking HIV PrEP (HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis).

What should I do if my test result is positive?

If your self-test result is positive, go to a clinic or contact your healthcare provider. They will arrange for you to have a laboratory blood test to confirm your result. They will also make sure you get the care and treatment you need.

To avoid passing HIV to your partner, partners, or others, don’t have unprotected sex or share needles while you’re waiting for your laboratory blood test results.

What happens if my laboratory blood test result is positive for HIV?

If your laboratory blood test is positive, a public health nurse will contact you. Remember that having HIV doesn’t mean you have AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). When HIV is treated early, it’s unlikely that you will develop AIDS. Talk to your healthcare provider about what to do next.

In Alberta, there are doctors who specialize in HIV. The public health nurse who contacts you can help you find a clinic that is right for you for follow-up and treatment.


Current as of: November 24, 2020

Author: Provincial STI Program, Alberta Health Services