HIV Testing (A Complete and Comprehensive guide)

In this short piece, we will take our minds back to HIV Testing. HIV being one of the most dreaded disease the world over, some persons still lack vital information about it, especially in the area of testing.

However, this short article will highlight some basic information about HIV testing, referencing mainly the CDC. At the end of this article, we will share a comprehensive HIV testing guide from STDTesting.

 

About HIV testing

The only way to know your HIV status is to get tested, this gives you powerful information to keep you and your partner healthy.

HIV is usually diagnosed by testing your blood or a sample of cells taken with a swab from inside your cheek for the presence of antibodies to the virus.

HIV tests vary in how soon they are able to detect infection. The time between when you get the virus and when it can be detected is called the window period. It can take up to three to 12 weeks for your body to make enough antibodies for an antibody test to detect HIV infection.

It usually takes a few days to a few weeks to get results of an HIV test, although rapid HIV tests can produce results in about 20 minutes.

Regardless of the type of screening test used, if you have an initial positive result you’ll need follow-up testing to establish an HIV diagnosis.

How soon after risky sex can you be 100% sure you are clear of HIV?

There is no single correct answer to this question. One recommended strategy is to get tested 2-4 weeks, 3 months, and 6 months after a risky exposure. Using a sensitive antigen/antibody HIV test, of those who are infected, most will test positive at 1 month; almost all will test positive at 3 months; and the rest will test positive at 6 months. If you have any symptoms that may be caused be acute HIV infection, you should be retested immediately, with an HIV viral load test included. Newer and more sensitive HIV tests make it more and more likely that HIV will be detected at earlier time points.

If you have been taking PrEP, tell your provider that when you are getting tested because PrEP may affect the ability of the HIV tests to detect early HIV infection.

Remember, if you have had “risky sex,” you may want to start PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis) to prevent HIV infection. You should start this as soon as possible after the possible exposure to HIV, and ideally within 72 hours of the exposure–call your VA provider or go to an emergency room or urgent care clinic.

 

Types of HIV Testing

Rapid HIV testing

Several rapid tests offer highly accurate information within as little as 20 minutes. These tests look for antibodies to HIV using either:

  • A sample of your blood, drawn from a vein or a finger prick
  • Fluids collected on a treated pad that is rubbed on your upper and lower gums

A positive reaction on a rapid test requires an additional blood test to confirm the results.

Home HIV testing

Home testing involves:

  • Collecting an oral fluid sample by swabbing your mouth
  • Using a kit to test the sample yourself

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You’ll get results in 20 minutes. A positive test result means you’ll need a follow-up test. The maker of the test offers confidential counseling and referral to follow-up testing sites.

A home blood test is no longer available.

Clinic or lab HIV testing

Doctors’ offices or other health care settings will likely follow the CDC recommendations for testing:

  • If this is your initial test, you will be given a combination HIV antigen/antibody test.
  • If this test is positive, you will then be tested with a second HIV antibody test. This test can tell the difference between the two most common types of HIVHIV-1 and HIV-2.
  • If these two test results conflict, a third test called an HIV-1 RNA test (nucleic acid amplification test) will look directly for HIV in your blood.

No test can confirm HIV infection immediately after you’re exposed. Tests that provide the earliest results are those that:

  • Look for antigens — proteins that develop within the first few weeks after infection
  • Evaluate your blood for genetic material from the virus

Tests that detect antibodies take longer. To get accurate results, you’ll need to have been infected for at least three weeks.

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What is the best screening test for HIV?

Antibody/antigen combination tests
The CDC recommends these blood tests. They can detect HIV earlier than antibody screening tests. They check for HIV antigen, a protein called p24 that’s part of the virus and shows up 2 to 4 weeks after infection. They also check for HIV antibodies.

 

Further reading:

Complete and comprehensive guide on HIV Testing

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