Saskatchewan still sees 200 new cases of Human Immunodeficiency Virus every year. The Public Health Agency of Canada has determined that 26 per cent of HIV-positive people are unaware of their status.
To reduce the number of unaware HIV-infected people, the Saskatchewan HIV Provincial Leadership Team is standardizing testing for the virus with the routine blood work done with yearly checkups. The team said if everyone gets the test then it becomes normal, which reduces the current stigma surrounding HIV testing.
The team said that having a blood test is the only way to know if someone is infected and that it is just as important to know that your status is negative as it is to know that it is positive.
HIV, as with many other sexually transmitted infections, is spread by unprotected sexual contact. It is also spread through blood contact by sharing needles, tattoo and piercing equipment, and through pregnancy, delivery and breastfeeding.
The best way to reduce the risk of infection is to always have protected sexual contact, never share needles and to take the proper precautions during breastfeeding, pregnancy and childbirth.
Anyone over the age of 13 will be tested if they are sexually active and have not been tested within the last 12 months. Health care providers will also perform HIV tests on pregnant women, anyone seeking STI testing and patients who have tested positive for tuberculosis, hepatitis B or hepatitis C.
Doctors will have to ask permission from the patient for the blood work to be done. After being sent to the provincial lab in Regina, the test results will be returned to health-care providers whom will notify the patients of the outcome. The entire process is expected to take approximately two weeks.
For students on campus who do not have a family physician, Student Health Services can provide a request for an HIV test that will be taken to a lab in the city.
Positive HIV test results remain confidential and access to this information is controlled by law. However, HIV is a communicable infection so the result must be sent to the medical health officer of the health region — a public health doctor who ensures that support and help with diagnosis and treatment are offered.
A public health nurse can help notify, without identifying the infected person, past and present sexual partners that a partner of theirs has tested HIV-positive and that they should be tested as well. A public health nurse can also help find ways to tell all future partners of HIV-positive status.
A positive HIV result may impact insurance plans. Some companies increase their premiums when they are aware of a client’s HIV status as they are believed to be high-risk clients.
However, the student health plan at the University of Saskatchewan — dubbed I Have A Plan — is not impacted by any HIV test history.
Graphic: Cody Schumacher/Graphics Editor