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HIV self-test

The HIV self-test is a test you do yourself. No need for an appointment with a health professional and no need for a medical prescription. You can obtain the test free of charge from certain community organizations or online from the Community-Based Research Centre (CBRC). If you live in Montreal, you can obtain the test from RÉZO.

What is the self-test?

The INSTI® HIV self-test analyzes a drop of your blood and gives you a result within one minute.

You can perform this test alone at home or with a friend. You can also be accompanied by a support worker from within Québec’s network of HIV community organizations. Just contact the HIV community organization closest to you to find out what kind of assistance you can get.

This test is only valid for HIV. It does not diagnose other STBBIs, such as gonorrhea or syphilis.

How does it work?

The HIV self-test kit lets you detect what we call HIV antibodies. These antibodies defend the body against the virus from the moment infection begins. However, it may take three to 12 weeks (21 to 84 days) before the body produces enough antibodies for the self-test to detect.

To find out how to use the self-test kit to get a reliable result in under a minute, click on the short video below!

No time to watch the video? Simply follow those instructions:

  • Begin by washing and drying your hands.
  • Prick the end of your finger with the tool, called a lancet, to get a drop of blood.
  • Add the drop of blood to Bottle 1 (the little red bottle), making sure your finger doesn’t touch the bottle.
  • Put on the cap and shake the bottle. Pour the content into the container provided for the test, and wait for the liquid to disappear. This takes a few seconds.
  • Take Bottle 2 (the little blue bottle) and shake it. Pour the contents into the same container and wait a few seconds for the liquid to disappear.
  • Take Bottle 3 (the little grey bottle) and shake it. Pour the contents into the same container and wait a few seconds for the liquid to disappear.

How do you interpret the results?

One single blue dot at the top of the circle

If there’s only one blue dot at the top of the circle, the test is considered non-reactive. That means it has not detected the presence of HIV antibodies and your result is negative.

 

Two blue dots

If there are two blue dots, the test is reactive. That means the test has detected the presence of HIV antibodies, and your test result is positive. If you get a positive test result, you need to see a health professional to get retested using a blood draw in order to confirm the test results.

No dots, or one single dot at the bottom of the circle

Sometimes, no dots appear, or only one dot appears, at the bottom of the circle. In these cases, the test is invalid. If that happens, don’t re-use the kit, because it’s only meant for single use. To redo the test and get a valid result, you need to get a new self-test kit.

Regardless of the result, don’t re-use the test. It’s a single-use test.

What should you do if you get a positive result?

While you can live with HIV for a long time without having many health problems, it’s not an easy thing to find out that you’re living with HIV. So, what should you do if you get a positive result when using a self-test kit?

  • It can be very beneficial to get support from someone you trust.
  • See a doctor as soon as possible in order to:
    • Confirm the positive result using a standard HIV test (blood draw)
    • Get appropriate care
    • Start HIV treatment

Getting medical care quickly helps better control the infection.

  • As needed, contact the HIV organization closest to you for psychosocial support or for accompaniment as you navigate the health system.
  • With your partner(s), choose the most effective prevention methods to avoid transmitting the virus until your test result is confirmed by a doctor.

To find the HIV community organization or health centre closest to you, use the postal code search tool.

What is the window period?

You may have heard about the “window period.” This is the time that needs to pass before a test can detect the presence of HIV in the blood. Once HIV enters the body and begins to infect its cells, it can be detected in some cases after three weeks, but it may also take as long as 12 weeks after infection before HIV becomes detectable by a test.

To better explain: If you’re exposed to HIV (say, on June 1), you need to wait for three weeks before using the self-test (starting on June 22). If the result is negative, it’s best to redo the test nine weeks later (around August 24), using a new kit, in order to confirm the result.

Autotest depistage vih, quand faire le test

If the self-test result is positive, you don’t need to do a second self-test. Make an appointment to get a confirmation test, meaning a blood draw that confirms the diagnosis.

Probable exposures include:

  • Anal, frontal and vaginal sex without a condom with an HIV-positive partner whose viral load is detectable, or with a partner of unknown HIV status;
  • Sharing drug injection equipment.

How can you get an HIV self-test kit?

You can obtain an HIV self-test kit free of charge from your nearest participating community organization, or online from the Community-Based Research Centre (CBRC). If you live in Montreal, you can get self-test kits from RÉZO.

You can also obtain the INSTI® HIV self-test kit for a fee, by ordering directly from the website of BioLytical Laboratories, the company that produces the test.

The cost is around $35 each, plus shipping and sales tax, for a total of around $57. For two tests, the cost is approximately $85, including shipping and taxes.

To order an INSTI® self-test kit, click here.

The kit can be delivered to the postal address of your choice.

Should you do it alone or with someone?

The HIV self-test gives you the advantage of being able to decide if you want to do it alone at home or with a trusted friend.

You can also be accompanied by a community worker. He or she can guide you in performing the test and interpreting the results, and, if you want, can provide you with support after you’ve taken the test.

The accompaniment methods (online, by text message, on the phone or in person) may differ from one organization to the next.

To find someone to accompany you, use the postal code search tool to find the HIV community resources closest to you.

What are the advantages of the self-test kit?

There are lots of good reasons to use the HIV self-test kit. The self-test…

  • Is easy to use.
  • Is safe.
  • Ensures confidentiality.
  • Gives you a result one minute after you perform the test.
  • Is recognized as reliable as long as it is used 3 to 12 weeks after probable exposure to HIV. In other words, you must wait between 3 and 12 weeks after probable exposure to HIV before taking the test, in order to obtain a reliable result. Probable exposures include:
    • Anal, frontal and vaginal intercourse without a condom with an HIV-positive partner with a detectable HIV viral load or a partner of unknown HIV status.
    • Sharing drug injection equipment

What are the issues?

While there are many benefits to the HIV self-test kit, issues remain:

  • The sustainability of free distribution is not yet assured.
  • If free distribution is not or no longer possible, the cost of self-test kits makes them inaccessible to people with low incomes.
  • In the case of both paid distribution by the manufacturer and free distribution by the CBRC, the self-test kit needs to be ordered online. This requires access to a computer, an Internet connection, a credit card and a delivery address.
  • Although going to a community organization solves the above issue, not everyone is comfortable going to such an organization.

Criminalization

In addition, an important point to consider is that, in Canada, a person living with HIV must disclose his or her status to a sexual partner prior to sexual intercourse, otherwise he or she may be subject to a complaint and criminal prosecution. However, there should be no prosecution if the HIV viral load:

  • is low (under 1,500 copies / ml of blood) and a condom is used during intercourse
  • is below 200 copies / ml of blood, thanks to effective treatment and laboratory testing every 4 to 6 months (i.e. 2 to 3 times a year) (undetectable = untransmittable)

A blood self-test or an oral self-test?

Soon, you’ll be able to choose between a blood self-test and an oral self-test. Oral self-tests are waiting for approval from the Canadian health authorities. This test, which is called OraQuick®, is done using saliva.

About this campaign

Discover the videos

Why this campaign?

HIV testing? For spring? Groundbreaking…

This campaign blitz aims to promote HIV testing among people who have not gotten around to their annual or regular test, which is the case for about half of men of sexually diverse experience who’ve tested positive for HIV recently, according to data from Santé Montréal. 

With their wealth of knowledge and community connections, the TOMS, the COCQ-SIDA and RÉZO have linked up to produce a spring campaign inspired by the iconic (and ironic) Miranda Priestly (played by Meryl Streep) in The Devil Wears Prada: “HIV testing? For spring? Groundbreaking…” Our campaign video is an homage to the scene, featuring drag artist Iris DeLys as the infamous editor-in-chief and comedian and podcaster Charlie Morin as her assistant. 

The added mission of this campaign is to demystify HIV testing by invoking the notion of lowkey seasonal activities: getting testing regularly? Obviously!

With HIV testing? For spring? Groundbreaking…, we are recommending that all of us in the community “make annual testing a thing” again. This can be done in clinics of course, but by happy coincidence, free self-testing kits are also a thing, while supplies last!

All our visuals and ads contain a QR code leading to this very website. It contains an array of resources about self-testing kits, how to access them in-person through RÉZO, in addition to listing and mapping the various agencies and clinics that offer rapid tests or laboratory tests (known as confirmatory testing) throughout Québec.

A “reel” was released by the TOMS early in the campaign on what to do if the test result is reactive.  

Resources

For those wishing to obtain a self-testing kit in person:
RÉZO
514-730-5757
rezosante.org/en/hiv-auto-test

Contact for online chat accompaniment (French interface, supportively bilingual staff):
Portail VIH/sida du Québec
pvsq.org/essentials-of-hiv

To order a FREE self-testing kit mailed to your home address:
CBRC
surveymonkey.com/r/TEST_AT_HOME?lang=en

Instructional video featuring Sandra Wesley from Stella, l’amie de Maimie, produced by the COCQ-SIDA:
“HIV Self-Test, in 4 Easy Steps” (February, 2023)
youtube.com/watch?v=e8wNyiP4O8s 

HIV self-testing kits and other referrals are also available at CASM for women and people in west end of town who are HIV-concerned (not for emergencies): 514-495-0990

Media contact

Jordan Arseneault
Research analyst (Chargé d’analyse) at the TOMS
analyse@toms-mtl.org 

As long as you’re having sex with men, get tested for HIV and other STIs at least once a year.