Knowing your HIV status provides you with valuable information to maintain the health of both yourself and your partner.
- If your test result is positive, you can receive medication to treat the virus. HIV treatment helps decrease the level of HIV in your bloodstream (viral load). Adhering to the prescribed HIV treatment can lower the viral load to such an extent that it becomes undetectable by tests (undetectable viral load). Maintaining an undetectable viral load (or staying virally suppressed) is the most effective method to safeguard your well-being and protect others.
- If your test result is negative, you can take preventive measures to avoid contracting HIV.
Should I get tested for HIV?
The UK Health Authority recommends that everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 undergo an HIV test at least once.
Individuals with specific risk factors should get tested more frequently. If you fall under any of the following categories, it is advisable to undergo an HIV test at least once a year:
- If you are a man who has engaged in sexual activity with another man.
- If you have had anal or vaginal intercourse with someone who is HIV-positive.
- If you have had multiple sexual partners since your last HIV test.
- If you have shared needles, syringes, or other drug injection equipment (such as cookers).
- If you have engaged in sexual activity in exchange for drugs or money.
- If you have been diagnosed with or received treatment for another sexually transmitted disease.
- If you have been diagnosed with or received treatment for hepatitis or tuberculosis (TB).
- If you have engaged in sexual activity with someone who has engaged in any of the aforementioned behaviors, or with someone whose sexual history you are unaware of.
Before engaging in sexual activity with a new partner for the first time, it is important to have an open discussion about your sexual and drug-use history, disclose your HIV status, and consider undergoing HIV testing together.
If I am a sexually active gay or bisexual man, how often should I get tested?
If you are a sexually active gay or bisexual man, it may be beneficial for you to undergo HIV testing more frequently, preferably every 3 to 6 months. It is advisable to have a discussion with your healthcare provider regarding your specific risk factors and to explore the available testing options that are suitable for you.
Should I get tested if I’m pregnant?
It is recommended that all individuals who are pregnant undergo HIV testing in order to take necessary measures to maintain their own health and safeguard their baby.
- By testing pregnant individuals for HIV and providing treatment to those who are HIV-positive, the number of babies born with HIV has significantly decreased.
- Commencing HIV treatment at the earliest stage of pregnancy yields the most effective results. However, initiating treatment during labor or shortly after the baby is born still provides substantial health benefits.
- If a pregnant person begins HIV treatment early in their pregnancy, the risk of transmitting the virus to their baby is extremely low (1% or less).
- Pregnant individuals who test negative for HIV can consult with their healthcare provider about the possibility of taking PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) to prevent contracting HIV.
Should I get tested for HIV if I have no risk factors?
The UK Health Authority recommends that as part of routine healthcare, everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 undergo an HIV test at least once. However, if you engage in activities that may heighten your risk of contracting HIV, more frequent testing is advisable.
Even if you and your partner are exclusively involved in a monogamous sexual relationship, it is still recommended that both of you ascertain your HIV status.
Who will pay for my HIV test?
HIV tests are covered by health insurance in accordance with the Affordable Care Act, and there is no requirement for a co-payment. If you do not possess medical insurance, there are certain locations that provide free or low-cost HIV tests.
What should I expect when I go in for an HIV test?
Your experience may vary depending on the testing environment.
Healthcare or Laboratory Setting
If you undergo an HIV test in a healthcare setting or laboratory, a healthcare provider will collect a blood or oral fluid sample.
- With a rapid test (oral fluid or finger prick), you may be able to wait to receive the results.
- With a laboratory test, it may take several days for your results to be available.
Your healthcare provider may discuss your risk factors, answer any questions you may have, and inform you about the next steps.
Non-Healthcare or Non-Laboratory Settings
If you get tested in a non-healthcare or non-laboratory setting, you are likely to undergo a rapid test (oral fluid or finger prick). The testing counselors should be able to address any questions you have and provide referrals for further testing if necessary.
What types of tests are available, and how do they work?
There are three types of HIV tests: antibody tests, antigen/antibody tests, and nucleic acid tests (NAT). Antibodies are generated by your immune system in response to viruses such as HIV. Antigens are foreign substances that trigger the activation of your immune system. In the case of HIV, an antigen called p24 is produced even before antibodies are detected.
HIV tests are usually conducted using blood or oral fluid samples. In some cases, they may also be performed using urine samples.
An antibody test is designed to detect the presence of HIV antibodies in your blood or oral fluid.
- The majority of rapid tests, as well as the only HIV self-test approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), are antibody tests.
- Typically, antibody tests conducted using blood drawn from a vein can detect HIV infection earlier than tests performed using blood obtained through a finger prick or oral fluid.
An antigen/antibody test is designed to detect both HIV antibodies and antigens.
- Antigen/antibody tests are commonly recommended for laboratory-based testing and are frequently used in the United States. This type of test involves drawing blood from a vein for analysis.
- There is also a rapid antigen/antibody test available that can be conducted using blood obtained through a finger prick.
Nucleic Acid Test (NAT)
A NAT (nucleic acid test) is designed to directly detect the presence of the HIV virus in the blood.
- During a NAT, a healthcare provider will draw blood from your vein and send the sample to a laboratory for testing.
- This test can determine whether a person has HIV or assess the amount of virus present in the blood (HIV viral load test).
- A NAT can detect HIV infection at an earlier stage compared to other types of tests.
- It is recommended for individuals who have recently been exposed to or potentially exposed to HIV, exhibit early symptoms of HIV, and have tested negative with an antibody or antigen/antibody test.
Discuss with your healthcare provider to determine the appropriate type of HIV test for your situation.
How long will it take to get my HIV test results?
The time it takes to receive HIV test results can vary depending on the type of test and the testing location.
- HIV self-tests typically provide results within 20 minutes.
- Rapid antibody tests, usually conducted using blood from a finger prick or oral fluid, yield results in 30 minutes or less.
- The rapid antigen/antibody test, performed with blood from a finger prick, also provides results in 30 minutes or less.
- NAT or antigen/antibody lab tests may take several days before the results are available.
Can HIV tests detect the virus immediately after exposure?
It’s important to note that no HIV test can immediately detect HIV right after infection. This is due to the window period, which is the time between HIV exposure and when the test can detect the virus in your body. The length of the window period depends on the specific type of HIV test. Nucleic acid tests (NAT) can usually detect HIV at the earliest, around 10 to 33 days after exposure. You can learn more about the window period for each HIV test.
If you believe you have been exposed to HIV within the last 72 hours, it is crucial to seek immediate medical attention from a healthcare provider, emergency room doctor, or urgent care provider to discuss post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP).
What is the HIV period?
The window period for an HIV test refers to the duration between HIV exposure and when the test can detect HIV in your body. The length of the window period varies depending on the specific type of HIV test used.
What is the window period for the HIV test I took?
- Antibody tests can typically detect HIV between 23 to 90 days after exposure. Most rapid tests and self-tests fall into this category.
- A rapid antigen/antibody test conducted using blood from a finger prick can usually detect HIV between 18 to 90 days after exposure.
- An antigen/antibody lab test that uses blood drawn from a vein can usually detect HIV between 18 to 45 days after exposure.
- A nucleic acid test (NAT) can usually detect HIV as early as 10 to 33 days after exposure.
If you get an HIV test after possible HIV exposure and the result is negative, test again after the window period for the test you took.
What is an HIV self-test?
An HIV self-test (or rapid self-test) is an antibody test that can be performed at home or in a private setting. With an HIV self-test, you can obtain your test results within 20 minutes.
How do I find an HIV self-test?
You can purchase an HIV self-test from a pharmacy or online. Your local health department or other nearby organizations may offer free or discounted self-tests, which you can locate using the provided locator. Currently, the only FDA-approved HIV self-test available in the United States is an oral fluid test.
How do I use an HIV self-test?
Before proceeding, carefully read the instructions included in the test kit.
- To perform an HIV self-test, you will need to collect an oral fluid sample by swabbing your gums and then test the collected sample.
- Your results will be available within 20 minutes.
- It is important to follow the instructions precisely to ensure accurate results. If you require assistance with using the test, a helpline number is provided with the HIV self-test.
Always interpret HIV self-test results according to the instructions provided by the manufacturer. For further understanding of what a negative or positive test result means, refer to additional information.
If the HIV self-test yields an invalid result, it means the test did not work correctly. In such cases, you will need to use another HIV self-test, opt for a mail-in HIV test, or seek testing at a healthcare provider or testing center.
What is a mail-in HIV test?
A mail-in HIV test is an antigen/antibody test that includes the necessary supplies to collect a small blood sample from a finger prick. You or your healthcare provider can order the test online and send the sample to a laboratory for testing. If the test is ordered by your provider, they will inform you of the test results.
It’s important to note that mail-in HIV tests are not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. However, according to the Clinical Laboratory and Improvement Amendments of 1988, laboratories providing this service must establish and verify the accuracy of the test.
How do I find a mail-in HIV test?
You can order a mail-in HIV test online, or your healthcare provider can order it for you.
How do I use a mail-in HIV test?
Before proceeding, carefully read the instructions included in the test kit.
- To perform a mail-in HIV test, you will need to prick your finger and collect a very small blood sample.
- You or your healthcare provider will then mail the sample to a laboratory for testing.
- If the test is ordered by your healthcare provider, they will contact you with the test results.
Always ensure that you follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully to ensure proper sample collection. For further understanding of what a negative or positive test result means, refer to additional information.
What does a positive HIV result mean?
If you receive a positive result from any type of antibody test, you will need a follow-up test to confirm the results.
- If you test positive in a community program or with an HIV self-test, it is important to visit a healthcare provider for follow-up testing.
- If you test positive in a healthcare setting or laboratory, the lab will conduct the follow-up testing, usually using the same blood sample as the initial test.
If the follow-up test also confirms the positive result, it means you have HIV.
What should I do if I have just been diagnosed with HIV?
Receiving an HIV diagnosis can be life-changing. It is common to experience various emotions such as sadness, hopelessness, or anger. Allied healthcare providers and social service providers can assist you in coping with the early stages of your diagnosis. They can also help you access HIV care and treatment that will enable you to lead a long and healthy life.
- HIV treatment, also known as antiretroviral therapy (ART), is recommended for all individuals with HIV, regardless of how long they have had the virus or their overall health.
- HIV treatment can lower the amount of HIV in the blood (viral load) to such a low level that it becomes undetectable. Maintaining an undetectable viral load is crucial for staying healthy and preventing transmission to others.
If I test positive for HIV, does it mean I have AIDS?
No, testing positive for HIV does not mean you have AIDS.
AIDS is the most advanced stage of HIV disease (Stage 3).
HIV can progress to AIDS if a person with HIV does not receive treatment or take care of their health. However, if someone with HIV consistently follows their prescribed HIV treatment, they can lead long and healthy lives and may never develop AIDS.