An HIV test can let a person know if they have HIV. A person can get tested at a doctor’s office, sexual health clinic, or other testing sites, or they can order a self-test kit to use at home. How long it takes for the results to be available depends on the type of test. Most sexually active people should try to have a test at least once a year.
HIV is a virus that attacks and destroys immune system cells. These cells protect the body against pathogens such as viruses and bacteria.
If a person loses too many immune cells, their body will have difficulty fighting off infections and other diseases. Without treatment, HIV can lead to AIDS.
Although there is currently no cure for HIV, with appropriate medical care, a person can treat the virus and its symptoms and have a nearly normal life expectancy.
The only way to know with certainty whether she has HIV is to undergo an HIV test. They should know their HIV status so they can make healthy choices to prevent HIV from being infected or transmitted.
This article looks at the types of HIV tests and self-tests, how long it takes to get results for HIV tests, and how soon after exposure those tests can detect the virus. It also looks at where people can get or order a test and whether individuals should be tested.
Types of HIV testing
There are three types of HIV testing a A person can do the following:
- nucleic acid testing (NATs)
- antigen/antibody tests
- HIV antibody testing
These tests typically include screening oral fluid or blood and sometimes urine for HIV.
This test looks for HIV in the blood. A healthcare professional will draw blood from a vein. The test can determine whether a person has HIV and how much of the virus is present in their blood — medical professionals call this a viral load.
NATs can detect HIV earlier than other types of tests, but they’re expensive so doctors don’t usually use them as part of HIV screening.
A healthcare professional usually performs NAT when a person has recently been exposed to risk exposure and is showing early HIV symptoms.
This test looks for HIV antigens and antibodies.
HIV produces an antigen called p24, which blood tests can detect before antibodies develop against the virus.
A person’s immune system also produces antibodies when exposed to viruses such as HIV.
Antigen/antibody testing is common in the United States, and medical teams usually do them in a laboratory.
The test usually involves a healthcare professional taking blood from a vein. A rapid antigen/antibody test is also available, in which a healthcare professional performs a fingerprick test.
HIV antibody test
This test looks for antibodies to HIV in the blood or oral fluid. Tests that use blood from a vein can generally detect the virus faster than tests involving a finger prick or oral fluid.
Most rapid HIV tests and the only HIV self-test currently approved is the antibody test.
There are two types of HIV self-tests: rapid self-tests and self-tests by mail.
A person can do a rapid self-test at home, which can produce results within 20 minutes.
Individuals can purchase a rapid self-test kit at a pharmacy or online. Oral fluid tests are the only type of rapid self-test currently available in the US.
There is currently only one rapid self-test approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA): OraQuick. For this test, a person swabs their gums to take a sample of the oral fluid and test it with the materials included in the kit. The test then delivers a result within 20 minutes.
However, it’s important that people follow the kit’s instructions or the test won’t work. The package includes a phone number that a person can call if they need help completing the test.
If the test is negative and a person has had no potential exposure within the last 3 months, they can be certain that they are HIV negative.
If the test result is positive, people should talk to a doctor for a follow-up test.
Self-test by mail A self-test
By post includes a sample collection kit, which can be used to remove dried blood from a fingerstock. A person then sends the sample to a laboratory for testing, after which a healthcare professional returns the results. Individuals can order a self-test by mail through various online providers or from their doctor or healthcare team.
Users should follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully to ensure they are taking a usable sample.
They can be certain that they do not have HIV after a negative test result and have not experienced any potential exposure to HIV in the last 3 months.
If the test is positive, a person should get a follow-up test from their doctor.
When individuals complete a self-test online, private health insurance or Medicaid may not cover these costs. So check with insurance providers and healthcare providers about reimbursement for these types of tests before you buy.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises people to consider self-testing as a first step. If a person experiences a positive result or still feels unsafe, they should talk to a doctor to confirm the result.
How long does it take to get results?
As long as people are following the right procedures, HIV testing is highly accurate. However, some factors that may affect the accuracy of these tests include:
- the type of test that
- were taken for the test
- after being exposed to the virus
- How a person’s body reacts to HIV
How quickly a person is tested
It is also important to know the term window period, which refers to how much time has elapsed between potential exposure and testing. HIV only becomes detectable after some time. A person should take a test at least 90 days after potential exposure to get an accurate result.
- NAT and antigen/antibody tests, a healthcare professional must draw blood from a person and send it to a laboratory for testing. It may take several days for the results to be available.
- rapid antigen/antibody tests, a doctor must prick a person’s finger to draw blood, and results can be achieved within 30 minutes.
- Rapid antibody tests are usually used blood from a finger prick or oral liquid. This can produce results within 30 minutes.
- The oral liquid antibody self-test can provide results within 20 minutes.
How soon after exposure can tests detect HIV?
None of the available HIV tests can detect the virus immediately after infection. If a person thinks they have experienced HIV exposure in the last 72 hours, they should talk to a doctor immediately about post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP).
Tests show the following differences in virus detection times.
- A NAT can normally determine whether a person has HIV 10—33 days after exposure to the virus.
- A laboratory antigen/antibody test on blood from a vein can usually detect HIV infection 18—45 days after exposure. Antigen/antibody tests using blood from a finger prick may take longer 18—90 days after exposure.
- Antibody tests may take 23—90 days after exposure to detect HIV. This includes most rapid tests and self-tests.
If a person receives an HIV test after a potential exposure and the result is negative, they should be tested again after the period of time has elapsed.
Where can you get tested? For people who have a
If you want to carry out HIV testing, there are many options available. This includes:
- Health clinics or community health centers
- One person’s office
- Family planning clinics, clinics
- sexual health
- local health authorities
- medical centers for veterans affairs
- Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Programs
- many pharmacies
- an online OraQuick self-test approved by the FDA.
Find an HIV testing site by:
- call 1-800-CDC-INFO (232-4636) or
- Visit gettested.cdc.gov
Should you have a test done?
The CDC recommends that all people between the ages of 13 and 64 get tested for HIV at least once.
People at increased risk should get tested more frequently. People should get an HIV test as soon as possible if they were HIV negative on the last test, the test was more than a year ago, and for
- The following applies: You had anal or vaginal sex with an HIV-infected partner
- You are a man who had sex with another man
- You have injected medication and have shared needles, syringes, or other injection devices with others
- You’ve had more than one sexual partner since your last HIV test
- They have been diagnosed with another sexually transmitted infection
- They traded sex for money
- you have received a diagnosis of hepatitis or tuberculosis
- They had sex with someone for whom any of the above applies or whose sexual history they do not know
A person who answers yes to any of the above questions should get tested once a year. According to the CDC, sexually active gay and bisexual men could benefit from more frequent testing, such as every 3—6 months.
A pregnant person should also undergo an HIV test to find ways to protect their baby against HIV infection.
Before having sex with a new partner, a couple should tell each other their HIV status or both should consider having an HIV test.
Even people in monogamous relationships should find out their HIV status.
There are three types of HIV testing: NATs, antigen/antibody tests, and antibody tests. A person can also test themselves at home by taking a rapid test or a self-test by mail.
People may get HIV test results at different times, depending on the test. It can take several days to get the results of a NAT, 30 minutes for a rapid antigen/antibody test, 30 minutes for a rapid antibody test, and 20 minutes for an oral liquid self-test.
If you have experienced HIV exposure within the last 72 hours, talk to a doctor to talk about PEP as soon as possible.
A person can use various options to get an HIV test, including at sexual health clinics and their doctor’s office, or by ordering an OraQuick test online.
All people should get an HIV test at least once. People at increased risk should be tested once a year or more, depending on their level of potential exposure.