Here are some Frequently Asked Questions about HIV and testing:

Why is it called the ‘Early HIV test’?

At HIM, we use the term ‘Early HIV test’ to describe a new testing technology that is being used on men over 18 years old at specified locations in Vancouver.  For a list of these locations, see our Testing Sites page.  This testing technology looks for the HIV virus, not HIV antibodies, so it does not have to wait for the body to develop these antibodies.  This means guys can test earlier, hence the name ‘Early HIV test’.  This test is sometimes referred to as the NAAT/RNA test.

Can I get both tests at the same time?

Yes, you can have both tests during the same visit. Your counsellor will talk to you about your testing options and provide you with information so you can make this choice together.

If you wish to take both tests, it is recommended that you have the Rapid test first. If this is negative, you may still be positive if you were exposed to the virus recently.  If you think this may be the case, you can decide to be tested using the Early HIV test.

Most people decide to have this second test when their ‘possible risk event’ happened less than 3 months before coming in for testing.  Very few risk events that result in an infection can be picked up by the Early HIV test if the risk event happened less than 10 to 12 days before testing. In these situations, it is recommended that you come back after the 10-12 day period following a risk event to be tested using the Early HIV test. If you get a negative Rapid test result and go on to have an Early HIV test that is confirmed positive, it will tell you that you have been infected with the HIV virus very recently (see our Acute HIV page)

What is Seroconversion Illness?

About 80% of the people who are recently infected have symptoms of seroconversion illness.  Seroconversion is the process in which your immune system responds by making antibodies to the HIV virus.

The symptoms of seroconversion illness are not specific to HIV and could be a sign of other infections or diseases. They vary from person to person and range from none at all or very mild, to severe. The feeling is often described as a flu-like illness that occurs 2 - 4 weeks after being infected and might last for 1 - 2 weeks.

Symptoms of seroconversion illness may include:



    Swollen lymph nodes

    Feeling tired or lack of energy

Remember that the symptoms for seroconversion illness are the same as for the common flu or other types of infection. There are also other less common symptoms that can be associated with HIV seroconversion - see your health care provider if you have questions about these.

If you are experiencing these symptoms and have had a risk incident,  a test for HIV antibodies may be something you may want to consider.

Note: other symptoms that may be associated with HIV seroconversion include: loss of appetite, weight loss, headache, neck stiffness, mouth ulcers, thrush, throat soreness, nausea/vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain.

What is a window period? How does it differ across the various HIV tests?

From the moment the HIV virus enters the body, it takes time for the immune system to develop enough HIV antibodies to be measurable by a Standard or Rapid HIV test.  The period of time required for the body to produce enough HIV antibodies to become detectable by a Standard or Rapid HIV test is called the ‘window period’.  Tests currently administered in British Columbia have a ‘window period’ which can last from anywhere between 10-12 days (Early HIV test) up to 3 months (Rapid and Standard Test).

Should I only get tested if I’ve had risky sex?  Are the advances in HIV testing the only reason for not waiting to get tested?

No, for many people HIV testing is something that they choose to do regularly for their own personal reasons. Encouraging everyone to get tested at least twice a year is good practice and a good way to reduce HIV related stigma. It also encourages responsibility and self care around HIV prevention.

What kind of support is provided if my result is positive?

You can get support and information about living with HIV.

You can call the AIDS VANCOUVER helpline at 604 696 4666 or send them an email at helpline@aidsvancouver.org. The trained volunteers are available from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm, Monday to Friday.

You can also call your local HIV/AIDS helpline for more information. Your healthcare provider can also give you information and options on what to do next and how to access other services and support.  Being HIV positive doesn’t mean that you have AIDS. By regularly monitoring your health with your healthcare providers and exploring your treatment options, you can slow down the process of HIV and live a longer and healthier life.

Some HIV positive resources:

TheBody.com - Broad range of AIDS and HIV-related issues, including an interactive Q&A with HIV and AIDS professionals.  Contains a treatment overview and activist action alerts.

Canadian HIV/AIDS Information Centre - A program of the Public Health Agency of Canada.

STDResource.com  BC CDC’s resource centre

CDC National Prevention Network - From the US Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia.

AIDS Vancouver

BC Persons with AIDS Society

CATIE - Canadian AIDS Treatment Information Exchange