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HIV Testing

What is an HIV test?

Usually this involves taking a small amount of blood from your arm.  The test looks for antibodies to HIV in your blood.  Antibodies are produced when your body detects an infection, like a virus.  However, it can take up to three months for your body to produce enough HIVantibodies to give a positive test result. 

We recommend you attend an STI/GUM  clinic for a HIV test.

You might want to test if:

  • You had vaginal or anal intercourse without a condom
  • You took cum/fluids/blood in your mouth
  • You had difficulties with a condom during sex (it tore or slipped off)
  • You engaged in any form of sexual activity that involved drawing blood
  • You received blood or blood products before 1986
  • You  have shared needles
  • You tested a long time ago
  • You are in a relationship and you and your partner want to stop using condoms
  • You want to have a child (or donate sperm)
  • You just want to be sure

What if I’m negative?

A negative result means that the antibody to HIV was not identified in your blood.  This can mean two things:

  • You have not been infected with HIV
  • Or it is too soon after your last risk for the test to be conclusive.  This is known as the ‘window period’.  To have a conclusive test, it’s advisable to test at least 3 months after your last risk.

A negative result does not mean that you’re immune to HIV.  You could be infected in the future if you put yourself at risk.  Have a look at  other safer sex information to learn more about protecting yourself from HIV in the future.
A negative result for you doesn’t mean your partner is negative.

Why might I have to wait three months?

After someone has been infected with HIV, it can take up to three months for antibodies to HIV to develop.  The test involves looking for these antibodies to HIV in your blood.  If you test within three months of your last risk, you might get an HIV negative result, which in fact, may be incorrect.  This period between the last risk and the development of antibodies to HIV is known as the ‘window period’. With most people the HIV antibodies takes three months to show,  in very rare cases it can take six months to show up.

During this window period, you should continue practicing safer sex. 

What if I’m positive?

A positive HIV test means that you have been infected with HIV, the virus which can cause AIDS.  You will be referred to a specialised HIV centre for ongoing monitoring, and, if necessary, treatment for HIV.  While waiting to see your new HIV specalist we advise you consider psychological or peer support which will help you with whatever worries you may be having. It will also reassure you that you are not alone.
Currently, there is no cure for HIV.  But don’t despair.  Things have changed for the better.   Now, by treating HIV with special drugs before any symptoms of AIDS appear, it will alter the course of the disease, to improve and extend your life expectancy. These anti-viral drugs have given HIV positive people new hope.
Basically this means, that in a person who takes their anti-viral drugs as prescribed, the level of HIV (viral load) in the blood can be kept very low.  Allowing the immune system to be restored to almost normal levels.
Most newly diagnosed HIV positive people don’t need to start taking medication straight away.  With good advice and support you may not need medical interventions for some years.
In some treatment centres you can avail of specialised psychological supports.  You will also be informed of the nearest support organisations if you wish to use them.  People who are trained to provide you with support  will be aware of all the issues which might be going through your head.

What if the result is unclear?

In a very rare number of tests, the initial assessment is unclear.  It could mean that the antibodies to HIV are still developing, but equally, it can have nothing to do with HIV.  Usually it has something to do with technical difficulties or some other problem with the blood.  These uncertainies occur very rarely and are sorted out over a few weeks.  You will be advised to have another test by the doctor some weeks later and you should be offered support by the counsellor.  If there is none available, contact one of the agencies listed.

If you are HIV positive, it’s better to find out sooner rather than later. 

What are the issues involved in having an HIV test?

There are many possible issues involved having an HIV test.  Some are easy to deal with, some are very difficult to deal with.
Some of these could be:

  • For those who are HIV negative, knowing this can put your mind at rest
  • If you are HIV negative you can continue planning a healtier sex life while protecting yourself and others
  • Knowing that you are HIV positive while still healthy can greatly increase your life expectancy, also your  options around treatment should you need medical interventions.
  • If you know that you are HIV positive, you can plan for a healthier sex while protecting yourself and others.
  • HIV is a virus, not a moral judgement.  Sadly, there is still a stigma associated with being HIV positive which can lead to difficulties with your partner, family, friends or in the workplace.  Accessing proffessional or peer support can help you greatly.
  • If you test HIV positive, it doesn’t mean that your current sexual partners are positive too. But if you have had unprotected sex with them, it would be advisable that they are also given the opportunity to test
  • You may wish to tell, any of your known previous sexual partners. Do seek support before you tell.  HIV, by law, is not a notifiable desease
  • Insurance companies should not discriminate against you for having an HIV test.  Many companies require applicants to test.  However, if you are HIV positive you will have difficulties getting certain types of insurance and assurance. You might want to look for futher advice on this and have a test at a clinic before seeking insurance
  • Some people would rather not know if they are HIV positive.  They feel that they would not be able to cope if they knew that they were HIV positive.  In reality, most people living with HIV with good support, advise and education cope well, and have found a good quality of life including a healthy sex life.

HIV and Worry

The thought of being HIV positive can cause a lot of worry.  Sometimes you can become really worried, despite the fact that you did not put yourself at risk.

Do you:

  • Go for HIV tests over and over again, even though you have been given negative results?.
  • Worry about having put yourself at risk, when you might not have done so?
  • Find that worry is affecting your health, your relationships or other areas of your life?.

Worry can be very distressing and can effect how you feel both in body and mind. Talking about your fears and worries with someone may be helpful. If you think you are worrying too much, it might be worth talking with a counsellor, health worker or contact a telephone helpline.

Where can I test?

Testing takes place at sexually transmitted infections/geneto-unary medicine (STI/GUM) clinics throughout Ireland or at the Baggot Street Clinic, Dublin 4.  We advise attending a STI/GUM clinic as you can avail of other sexual health screenings while there.  At some clinics pre- and post-test counselling is available.  Testing is free at all clinics, and it usually takes two weeks before you can collect your results. The various testing sites are listed at the back of this booklet.
Before you do it, make sure you are aware of the policies and procedures for HIV testing in the centre that you have chosen.
Some doctors, General Practitioners (GPs), also provide HIV testing, but your results will be noted in your medical records.  Also, some GPs may not be familiar with pre- and post-test counselling.  If your only option is to visit a GP, then instead of going to your own you could visit a GP not previously known to you.   Talk with someone on the telephone or to a friend before you decide.  The test is free, but GPs will charge you a consultation fee unless you have a medical card.  HIV is not an Notifiable Disease

Is the test confidential?

If you have an HIV test in a STI/GUM clinic or Baggot Street Clinic, the test is confidential.  The blood will be sent to the laboratory with some identifying information, such as a date of birth, initials and a medical chart number.

If you are HIV positive only the clinic or hospital will have your details and cannot give them to anyone else without your consent, although all positive cases are recorded for reports by use of special codes.  You cannot be identified.

What is Informed Consent?

Informed Consent means you have a right to be fully informed about any medical procedure, to refuse it or to agree to it.  You should be asked to read or to acknowledge a statement saying that you have been informed about the HIV antibody test procedure, you understand any implications, and that you consent to having it done.

Are You New To Ireland?

Regardless of your legal status or where you are from you can get a free HIV test from any STI/GUM clinic where you can also have a free sexual health screen and treatment.  Or you can have the HIV Test only at Baggot Street clinic.    Testing at the these clinics is confidential and information about your visit cannot be accessed by others.

So what will I do now?

Every person’s situation is different -only you can make the decision after seriously considering your own.  There are valid reasons why some people choose not to test.  In light of treatments currently available we would encourage you to test.