HIV screening

If you are pregnant or thinking of getting pregnant, it is best to test for HIV. Your health care provider will discuss the risks and benefits of screening, but the decision to be tested is up to you. All Canadian provinces currently recommend prenatal HIV screening to all pregnant women.

What is HIV?

HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. This virus harms a person’s immune system and nervous system. HIV can eventually develop into acquired immunodeficiency syndrome – also known as AIDS. HIV is found in an infected person’s bodily fluids: semen, blood, vaginal secretions, and breast milk. The virus is usually spread through sexual contact or through a contaminated needle or other injection drug apparatus. There is no cure for AIDS. Due to major medical advances in antiretroviral therapy, people with HIV are living longer and have a better quality of life. Today’s projections suggest that people diagnosed with HIV will live 30-40 years from the time of infection.

What are the risk factors for contracting HIV?

Your risk of having HIV is higher if you:

  • Are sexually active but have never been tested for HIV
  • Have shared drug equipment with a partner whose HIV status is not known or who is HIV positive
  • Have had unprotected sex with a known HIV-positive individual
  • Have had unprotected sex with a partner who is from an area where HIV infection is common
  • Have had unprotected sex with a partner whose HIV status is not known
  • Have had multiple and/or anonymous sexual partners
  • Have been diagnosed with other sexually transmitted infections
  • Have received blood or blood products in Canada prior to November 1985

Why should I be screened for HIV during pregnancy?

Many people who are infected with HIV do not know they are infected. A pregnant woman can pass HIV to her unborn baby. Without treatment, more than half of HIV-infected babies will die before the age of 2. There is treatment to prevent the transmission of the virus from mother to baby. That is why every woman thinking about becoming pregnant, and those that are already pregnant, should be tested for HIV. Depending on the type of screening test, it may be up to 12 weeks after exposure before an infected person tests positive for HIV. If you are at risk, you may need to be tested several times over your pregnancy.

What if I test positive?

A positive test is a very frightening event for almost everyone. If your test result is positive, you will need guidance, emotional support, and special health care. A trained counsellor will help support you, teach you about HIV, and provide you with ways to cope with the disease. Remember, having HIV doesn’t mean you have AIDS, but it does mean that you can infect other people. Your counsellor will teach you how to avoid passing the virus on to someone else. If you are pregnant and you decide to go ahead with the pregnancy, proper therapy can lessen the risk of passing the virus to your baby.