An HIV test with routine blood work is available to all consenting patients of St. Paul's Hospital and Mount Saint Joseph Hospital.
The HIV acute care testing project is a component of a larger provincial Seek and Treat for Optimal Prevention of HIV/AIDS (STOP HIV/AIDS) project, a four-year, $48-million program funded by the Ministry of Health to improve access to HIV testing, treatment, and support services in Vancouver and Prince George. As part of this project, routine HIV tests are also offered at Vancouver General Hospital and UBC Hospital.
Frequently Asked Questions
- When did this start?
- St. Paul’s Hospital and Mount Saint Joseph Hospital began providing this service in October 2011. Vancouver General Hospital and UBC Hospital began in November 2011.
- Who is being tested?
- All patients admitted to acute care units are offered tests. Excluded services/departments include the Intensive Care Unit, palliative care and psychiatry.
- Why is an HIV Test offered to everyone?
- Knowing your HIV status is important for your health and health care. People with HIV often have no symptoms for many years. During this time, your health may be affected without you knowing it. The only way to know for sure is to have the test. An HIV blood test is simple. It can be done with all your other blood tests while you are in hospital. HIV is treatable with medication. The medication will keep your immune system strong. People with HIV who are treated can now live long and productive lives.
- Why test patients with no risk factors?
- Everyone who has ever been sexually active is at some risk of HIV. Patients don’t always know if they are at risk or discuss this information with their health care providers. HIV testing has been incorporated into routine care for all pregnant women in BC. Most women are at low risk, but since it began, this form of routine testing has virtually eliminated mother-to-child transmission of HIV. We now need to do the same for all other patients. We expect to find relatively few patients with undiagnosed HIV; however, if every physician in Vancouver diagnoses only one additional case of HIV in the next four years, the diagnoses of HIV in our population will double.
- What is the timeline for getting results?
- Negative test results can take one to three days. Positive test results can take one to two weeks because the blood sample needs confirmatory testing at the BC Centre for Disease Control Laboratory.
- Have other hospitals conducted routine HIV testing?
- Yes, similar pilots have been held in Calgary and Winnipeg. Recent pilot projects in the United Kingdom have shown that routine testing is generally accepted by the majority of both patients and physicians, and test uptake rates have consistently ranged from 60 per cent to 90 per cent in hospital and community care settings.
- Will this initiative be evaluated?
- Yes, this initiative will be evaluated for feasibility, effectiveness and cost-effectiveness.
- When will this initiative end?
- This project will end in March 2013. If successful, routine HIV testing may become part of hospital care.
What You Need to Know
- The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a virus that attacks the immune system, which helps your body fight off infection.
- HIV infection is a chronic illness that can be treated with medication. Like diabetes, there is no cure for HIV, but people living with HIV who are treated can stay healthy and are less likely to pass the virus onto others. This is because the amount of virus in the body can be controlled by medication.
- HIV can lead to Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) if you are not treated with anti-HIV medication.
- HIV can spread from one person to another during unprotected sex (vaginal, anal, and sometimes oral) or by blood contact (such as sharing needles) with someone who has HIV.
- HIV test results are stored in a confidential computer information system and only health care staff directly involved in the care of a patient may access the patient’s information.
- The test results may take up to two weeks to to come back. If your HIV test is positive and you are still in the hospital, your doctor and/or a nurse will tell you the result. You will also get support, education and help with follow-up health care.
- If your HIV test is positive and you have left the hospital, you will receive a call from a public health nurse. The public health nurse will set up a meeting with you. The public health nurse will provide you with support and education, and will help you to get follow-up health care.
- If you leave the hospital before getting your test result, you can ask your family doctor for the result. If you do not have a family doctor, you may call the HIV Results Line at 604-682-2344, extension 62920. When you call this line, you will be asked to provide your full name, date of birth and care card number to properly identify yourself.
- The test is not able to detect very early HIV infection. If you think you may have been exposed to HIV in the last six weeks, ask your family doctor to have a second test in six weeks to make sure you are not infected with HIV.
If You Test Positive for HIV
If your HIV test is positive, you will be contacted. HIV is treatable, and while it is a chronic infection with no cure, medications are available that can assist you to live a healthy and productive life. Like other communicable infections, a positive HIV test is shared with your local public health office. This will make sure that public health nurses can offer support to you and your sexual partners. If you are told about your test result in the hospital, your doctor and/or nurse will provide you with support, education and information about follow up care and treatment.
If you are told about your test result by a public health nurse after you have left the hospital, the nurse will provide you with support, education and information about follow-up care and treatment. Your current or past sexual partners will be informed that they need to be tested for HIV. A public health nurse can help you to tell your partners, or can inform them without identifying you. If you test positive for HIV, your test result is kept in both a provincial database and other health care databases. We collect, use and disclose your information only where permitted or authorized by the BC Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. For more information read “Disclosure Directives”.
For information on our HIV Program or to access HIV-related resources, visit our program page.
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Angela White, St. Paul's Hospital Volunteer