You've never had an HIV test? You're starting a new relationship? You've had sex without using a condom? You're pregnant or you want to become pregnant? The screening test for HIV and other blood-borne and sexually-transmitted infections (BBSTIs commonly known as STIs) is the only way of detecting the presence of an infection and accessing the necessary medical follow-up and support.
It's confidential and free! Because these infections often produce no symptoms, the screening test gives you peace of mind and lets you preserve your health and that of your partners.
There are several places where you can have a screening test done for HIV and other BBSTIs:
To get more information about the services offered in your region, you can contact Info-Santé at 8-1-1 or click here.
Testing is confidential and free for anyone who has a valid health insurance card issued by the RAMQ or an eligibility document for the Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP). (Note that some clinics charge administration fees.)
The screening test involves taking a blood sample and, if necessary, other samples, such as urine. It takes only a few minutes.
You can undergo testing starting at the age of 14 without needing parental consent.
Anonymous HIV testing is an exceptional measure for people who have a higher risk of contracting an STBBI compared to the general population. It’s only provided by SIDEPs (Services intégré de dépistage et de prévention des ITSS, or integrated STBBI testing and prevention services), which are located within at least one CLSC in every region of Québec. In these places, you don’t need to show a health insurance card or any other ID, and the service is free. The service will not be offered to you right away; you need to ask for it when you make your appointment.
HIV isn't easily transmitted. It can be transmitted through the following body fluids:
HIV is transmitted only when one of these fluids from an HIV-positive person comes into contact with the bloodstream of another person; for example:
On the other hand, HIV is NOT transmitted in everyday situations such as the following:
Nowadays, treatments for HIV are more effective than ever. The life expectancy of a person living with HIV and receiving treatment is very close to that of an uninfected person. The earlier the infection is detected, the earlier it can be managed, bettering the chances of living a long and healthy life.
In the last few years, many scientific studies have shown that effective treatment, taken as prescribed for at least six months, prevents the sexual transmission of HIV. This means that taking HIV medication, without skipping any doses, along with regular medical follow-up, makes it possible to control the infection, and to preserve your health and that of your partner(s).
If you don’t have a health card or a PFSI eligibility document:
Other BBSTIs (STIs) can be transmitted more easily than HIV, for example, during oral sex. Very often, you'll have no symptoms or the symptoms will not be visible. Having an BBSTI increases the risk of contracting or transmitting HIV.
If you don’t have a health card or a IFHP eligibility document:
Vaginal and anal sex
To reduce risks:
Correctly use a latex, polyurethane or polyisoprene condom for vaginal and anal sex.
Use water-based or silicone lubricants. Don't hesitate to re-apply such products, as they minimize the risk of tearing. Oil-based lubricants are not compatible with condoms. This information is indicated on the lubricant container.
When performing anal sex and vaginal penetration, remember to change the condom when moving from the anus to the vagina in order to avoid transmitting bacteria from one place to the other.
Don’t forget that condoms also protect against unplanned pregnancies.
It is also recommended to wear a condom when sex toys are shared.
For cultural or personal hygiene reasons, some women use vaginal douches or other substances to clean their vagina, before or after sexual relations. These substances can irritate the vaginal mucosa and potentially increase the risks of BBSTIs. It is recommended to wash the vulva daily with water only.
You may have heard about PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis), which means taking anti-HIV treatment in order to prevent infection. In Québec, PrEP is provided to people who are at high risk of being infected with HIV. For instance, it’s offered to couples in which one person is living with HIV and the other is not. In this context, PrEP can be a way to prevent infection.
To have access to PrEP, you need a prescription from your doctor.
To protect yourself and reduce risks:
Maintain good oral hygiene and avoid oral sex if you have wounds, cuts, ulcers, gingivitis (inflammation of the gums) or other infections.
Avoid having oral sex the day you visit the dentist.
Avoid brushing your teeth, or using dental floss or mouthwash an hour BEFORE and an hour AFTER oral sex. This minimizes the possibility of getting cuts, irritations or blood in your mouth.
When being tested for BBSTIs (STIs), ask the doctor to take a specimen from your throat.
Using a condom or dental dam (latex square) during oral sex is another way of minimizing risks. They can be bought flavored or non-lubricated.
Emergency contraception (morning-after pill)
In situations where a condom wasn’t used or if it broke during sex, the emergency oral contraceptive pill (or morning-after pill) allows a woman to avoid an unplanned pregnancy if taken quickly. Even if this pill can be taken up to 5 days (120 hours) after sex, it is advisable to avoid delay in order to ensure maximum effectiveness.
This pill is available without prescription and it is available to women, including minors, at pharmacies and emergency rooms (ER), and in most clinics and women’s centers.
The pill is free for young women under the age of 18 and for full-time students under the age of 25. The emergency oral contraception has no or few significant side effects and will not prevent future pregnancies. However, its use should be reserved for emergency situations.
For more complete information, contact:
Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP)
PEP, or post-exposure prophylaxis, is a treatment that you can take after having anal or vaginal sex without a condom with a partner who is living with HIV and not being treated for it, or with a partner whose status is unknown.
For this treatment to be effective, it must be started as quickly as possible, within a maximum of 72 hours after the risky sexual activity. Some health professionals who do not specialize in HIV may be unaware of this treatment. Therefore, it is highly recommended to consult clinics that specialize in HIV and blood-borne and sexually-transmitted infections (BBSTIs commonly known as STIs)
You can go to the emergency room at your closest hospital, or make an appointment at a specialized clinic. Remember that it’s important to be seen as quickly as possible, within 72 hours of the risky sexual activity.