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HIV Testing

July 23, 2014

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Table of Contents

What Is HIV Testing?

HIV testing tells you if you are infected with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) that causes AIDS. Most of these tests look for "antibodies" to HIV. Antibodies are proteins produced by the immune system to fight a specific germ. Newer HIV tests can also look for signs of the virus itself in the blood.

People who already know they are infected with HIV might get other "HIV" tests. These measure how much virus is in the blood (a viral load test, see Fact Sheet 125) or the strength of your immune system (a CD4 count, see Fact Sheet 124).


How Do I Get Tested?

You can arrange for HIV testing at any Public Health office, or at your doctor's office. Test results are usually available within two weeks. In the US, call the National AIDS Hotline, (800) 342-2437.

The most common HIV test is a blood test. Newer tests can detect HIV antibodies in mouth fluid (not the same as saliva), a scraping from inside the cheek, or urine. "Rapid" HIV test results are available within 10 to 30 minutes after a sample is taken. In November 2010 the FDA approved the INSTI test, which gives results within 60 seconds. In 2012, the FDA approved the first true "in-home" HIV test. It uses a mouth swab and shows results in 20 to 40 minutes. A positive result on any HIV test should be confirmed with a second test at a health care facility.

Who Should Get Tested?

Many people are infected with HIV but don't know it. You might not feel sick or have any health problems. But you can still pass HIV to other people. Anyone who is sexually active should get tested regularly for HIV. In 2013, a US panel of experts recommended that everyone between the ages of 15 and 65 and all pregnant women be tested, even if they have no known risks of HIV infection. This should make it easier for the cost of the test to be reimbursed by insurance companies.

When Should I Get Tested?

If you are infected with HIV, it usually takes from three weeks to two months for your immune system to produce HIV antibodies. During this "window period" you can test "negative" for HIV even if you are infected. If you think you were exposed to HIV, you should wait for two months before being tested. You can also test right away and then again after two or three months. If you are infected, you can transmit HIV to others during the window period even if you test negative. In fact, during this period of early infection, you have the greatest chance of passing HIV infection to others.

About 5% of people take longer than two months to produce antibodies. Testing at 3 and 6 months after possible exposure will detect almost all HIV infections. However, there are no guarantees as to when an individual will produce enough antibodies to be detected by an HIV test. If you have any unexplained symptoms, talk with your health care provider and consider re-testing for HIV.

Do Any Tests Work Sooner After Infection?

Viral load tests detect pieces of HIV genetic material. They show up before the immune system manufactures antibodies.

In 2010 the FDA approved a new blood test that detects both antibodies to HIV and HIV antigens (pieces of the virus). This "fourth generation" test can detect HIV infection sooner than antibody tests alone.

What Does It Mean if I Test Positive?

A positive test result means that you have HIV antibodies, and are infected with HIV. This can be a very difficult time. Be sure to get information and help. See Fact Sheet 201, "How Do I Start?"

Testing positive does not mean that you have AIDS (see Fact Sheet 101, What is AIDS?). Many people who test positive stay healthy for several years, even if they don't start taking medication right away.

If you test negative six months after you think you were exposed to HIV and if there is no chance you were exposed to HIV since then, you are not infected with HIV. Continue to protect yourself from HIV infection (see Fact Sheet 150, Stopping the Spread of HIV).

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This article was provided by AIDS InfoNet. Visit AIDS InfoNet's website to find out more about their activities and publications.

Reader Comments:

Comment by: Rachel (Deer Park, TX) Mon., Jul. 20, 2015 at 4:27 am UTC
My boyfriend of almost 2 years has been HIV positive for several years 10+ actually and did not tell me. Obviously we had unprotected sex after we had been together for awhile and several times we participated in oral sex that resulted in transmission of his bodily fluids into my mouth and even eyes.. I have not gotten outwardly sick. But I previously have been diagnosed with HPV no warts but they removed part of my cervix. I had 3 children after the fact and never warts. Well after having unprotected sex with this man for over a year I developed small warts in my vaginal area. By the way we are both over 40 so not naive at all. That was something I could deal with after all we were living together and very committed and monogamous as far as I know. I was tested for HIV a when i went in and tested negative so I felt fine. We did argue about the warts he was furious and combative. I told him it was OK i had never displayed warts but had been diagnised with HPV previously and that it was hard to say who gave them to who and it was no biggie we weren't dying. In fact my risk of cancer was my big gest concern (little did I know he was HIV positive
and had had warts removed) a few months later i stumbled upon his diagnosis after knocking a box of papers off of a shelf while cleaning. Total devestation. He does not take Meds he does not think he's that sick and insists I won't get it. His reasons, make no sense. He has a mild strain???? What does that mean. Swallowing semen is not as dangerous as transmission through my vagina. And if I were going to get it I already would have. I take mouth swab home test every month. I will be able to take another blood test end of August. How long do I need, to test inreality to be sure iI'm not infecting anyone. I don't plan on having sex or a relationship honestly this has devastated me. I have 5 children I have grand babies. I feel terribly betrayed. Emotionally I'm a mess. I'm a professional I lost my job.
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Comment by: rusty starritt (houston) Wed., Jul. 15, 2015 at 12:50 am UTC
if I test positive for HIV do the results come in the mail or the law that the doctor has to call you
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Comment by: johannes shikongo (namibia) Fri., May. 22, 2015 at 2:29 pm UTC
i had unprotected sex with my first girl friend she told me she hiv free but later for sure she said she is hiv positive. I went to hiv test and i test negative at 3 months after a risk, that time i was having symptom of hiv rashes, diarrhea, fever and break out of acne on my face. For how long does window periode it take? Becouse i hope i will be tested hiv positive one of the day becouse i 'm still with symptom.
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Comment by: ajaz (India) Sat., May. 2, 2015 at 9:34 am UTC
I was check 100 days result non reactive iam safe100 %
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Comment by: ajaz (India) Sat., May. 2, 2015 at 9:33 am UTC
I was check 100 days result non
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