What is Involved in HIV Testing?

What is Involved in HIV Testing?

It is really common to feel a little apprehensive about going for an HIV test. But making the decision to test is the best thing you can do for your health. The process is quick, painless, confidential and almost always free.


The healthcare worker – there to help you!

Before you test, your healthcare worker should talk to you about your sexual health, why you’ve decided to test, and any risks you may have taken.

Remember, the healthcare professional is not there to judge you. There is most likely nothing you can say that they haven’t heard from someone else. Be honest with them, and ask as many questions as you want – that is what they are there for.

You should never feel pressured to test. The results will be completely confidential and you should only go through with it if you want to.

If the doctors feel you are at a high risk of HIV, they may give you post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP). This is a course of emergency HIV treatment that will reduce your chance of being infected with HIV. Speak to your healthcare worker for more information about this.


The HIV test

There are a variety of different HIV tests. The healthcare worker should explain which test you will be given and how you will get your result. Normally, testing involves taking a small sample of blood from either your finger or your arm, or a sample of oral fluid. If you are taking a rapid test, you will be given your results within 20 minutes, otherwise, your results will be sent to a lab and you may have to wait any time from one day to one to two weeks for the final result.


How HIV tests work

HIV antibody tests (third generation tests)

When you become infected with HIV, your body will start to produce specific antibodies. An HIV antibody test looks for these antibodies in your blood, saliva or urine. If these antibodies are found, it means you are infected with HIV. This test is only accurate after three months, because this is how long it takes your body to produce enough antibodies for it to show up in a test.


Fourth generation HIV tests

Fourth generation tests test for HIV antibodies, but also for something called p24 antigens. The p24 antigens are part of HIV itself, you have a lot of these in your blood after being recently infected – this is why you are most infectious in this period too. Fourth generation tests can detect HIV anywhere from 11 days to 1 month.


Rapid HIV tests

Results for your HIV test can now be given at the healthcare centre, without the need for samples to be sent to a laboratory. There are a variety of different rapid tests, most test for HIV antibodies. Whilst these tests are reliable, laboratory testing is seen as better, as rapid tests have a slightly higher likelihood of giving a false positive result.