Frequently Asked Questions

Q. I am pregnant, should I have an HIV test?
A. It is possible to take a HIV test when you are pregnant. Knowing your status will allow you to take precautions to ensure that your baby does not contract HIV. If you are HIV-positive and do not know it, you cannot benefit from treatment that can prevent you from passing on HIV to your baby.

If your test result is positive, this means that you could pass HIV to your baby during pregnancy, during birth or by breastfeeding. However, there are certain things a woman can do to minimise the risk of HIV being passed to her child. These include:

* Taking drugs called antiretrovirals during pregnancy
* Taking antiretroviral drugs during labour
* Choosing caesarean section as the method of delivery
* Giving the baby a short course of antiretroviral therapy after birth
* Either uniquely breast-feeding or refraining from breast feeding altogether

Q. Can my baby have an HIV antibody test?
A. All babies born to mothers with HIV are born with HIV antibodies. If an HIV antibody test is given to a newborn baby then it will not give an accurate result. Babies who are not infected lose their antibodies by the time they are around 18 months old. So it is only after your baby is 18 months old that the HIV antibody test will give an accurate result. However, most babies can be diagnosed as either infected or uninfected by the time they are 3 months old by using a different test, called the PCR test. The PCR test is more sensitive than the HIV test and looks for the presence of HIV itself, not antibodies.

Q. If my partner is HIV negative, does that mean I don’t have to take the test?

A. No. Your HIV test results reveal only your HIV status. Your partner’s negative test result does not indicate whether or not you have HIV. HIV is not necessarily transmitted every time there is an exposure. Therefore your partner taking an HIV test should not be seen as a method to find out if you are infected.

Q. When should I be tested for HIV?
A. Most tests look for antibodies produced by your body to fight HIV infection. These antibodies don’t develop immediately but emerge within three months of being infected. The average time for antibodies to develop is three to four weeks. In rare cases, they take six to 12 months to develop.

It is not effective to get tested immediately after you think you may have been infected. If you do so, you should be re-tested in three months and then again at 6 months if your test results are negative. During this period of testing, avoid all behaviour that could spread HIV to others such as unprotected sex and sharing needles or syringes. Consult with your doctor or nurse or the health care providers who perform your HIV test for more information.

Other tests are available that can be used in specific circumstances, such as the p24 antigen test and the PCR test.

Q. My partner and I are both HIV positive. Do we still need to use condoms?
A. The answer is a resounding “yes”. For years HIV reinfection or super-infection as it is sometimes called, is a consequence of unprotected sexual encounters between two HIV infected people. Simply put, reinfection occurs when a person living with HIV gets infected a second time while having unprotected sex with another HIV infected person. It’s been proven to be possible in laboratory studies as well as in animal trials. And for years, proof that it could happen in real-life situations has been hard to come by. But now, compelling evidence has surfaced in human case studies that have confirmed our fears that HIV reinfection can occur and can be very problematic for HIV infected people.

Q. How does reinfection affect me?
A. As you may already know there are several strains of HIV. In addition, when exposed to medications, HIV changes or mutates over time. If a person is reinfected with a strain of HIV that is different from the strains already present or if a mutated HIV type is introduced into the body through unsafe sex, treatment will be much more complex and potentially ineffective. For example, I am being treated for HIV and my medications are working well…my viral load is undetectable. Then I have unprotected sex with another person living with HIV and get reinfected with their strain…one that is resistant to most medications. Over time, that new strain will develop in my body, rendering my once successful treatment useless and causing my immune system to drop more rapidly. Re-infection can cause an accelerated decline from HIV to AIDS.

Q. What should I do to prevent reinfection?
A. Simply put, to prevent reinfection, safer sex should be the rule with every sexual encounter. Be honest with your partner. Insist on using condoms during every sexual act and explain why. While some people feel that condoms “kill the mood” or “don’t feel as good” as sex without condoms, it is possible to have a very fulfilling sex life that includes the use of condoms.

Q. What if I have already had unprotected sex?

A. With your partner, introduce condoms into your intimacy. While it will feel different at first it can be very pleasurable. Also, continue to take your medications as prescribed without missing any doses. Share your concerns about reinfection with your physician and make him aware that you have had an unprotected encounter with another positive person. With this information, your doctor can be in tune to therapy failures if they occur and possible reasons for that failure.