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Different Stories from Doctor and HIV Hotline

Nov 16, 2001

Dear Mr. Kull,

Last April I performed oral sex on a female prostitute. The risk I thought was low but after 12 weeks I tested and was negative. In September I developed a swollen gland in my neck and groin. The only possible exposure since my test was a handjob. I went to the doctor today and he said my 3 month test was not sufficient and that I should test again. I am scared to death. The Canadian HIV hotline says my doctor is misinformed and that another test is not needed. It is so hard to know who to beleive. Please advise me, this is the worst time in my life. Your work is so helpful and I thankyou.

Response from Mr. Kull

There is no exact answer to your question about the window period. Making the decision to get tested at three or six months following exposure is ultimately going to have to be your own. People in the HIV/AIDS field will have differing opinions on who should get tested and when. This does not mean that their opinions are wrong or that you should not believe their reasoning. It does mean that getting an HIV test can be a confusing and difficult decision.

It is highly unlikely that a person would take longer than three months to develop a detectable level of antibodies as measured by standard screening tests. In fact, most people will develop a detectable level of antibodies in about 25 days, and the vast majority will have detectable levels at three months (estimates of accuracy at three months are as high as 99.9% accurate). Many experts agree--including those at the New York City Department of Health and the Gay Men's Health Crisis--that testing at three months is sufficient. The CDC sometimes suggests that people get tested at six months to rule out the rare, but possible, chance that someone receives a false negative at three months; testing at six months following exposure is usually recommended for someone who was DEFINITELY exposed to HIV infected fluids during intercourse.

It is also important to look at the likelihood of transmission. In your case, performing oral sex on a woman, the risk of infection is very small. See my response to "Oral sex" (

In science, there rarely are exact answers. You will definitely run into some conflicting information out there. That's why you should do what is going to give you the most security.


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