Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a potentially deadly disease that interferes with the body’s ability to fight infections. Left untreated, it can lead to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). Unlike other viruses, the body cannot completely get rid of HIV, even with treatment, so once diagnosed, you will have it for life.
If you believe you have HIV, you must get tested to confirm your status. Here’s what to expect from an HIV test.
What Does the Test Look For?
The HIV test detects antibodies in your blood or saliva that help fight infection. If you have HIV, your body makes a specific type of antibody that differs from the ones produced to fight the flu, hepatitis or other infections.
The test does not determine if you have AIDS, how long you have been infected or how sick you might be – it only indicates whether you have HIV.
The Window Period
No test can detect HIV immediately after infection. The time between initial HIV exposure and when a test can detect it is called the window period. This varies from person to person but typically ranges from two to twelve weeks. The window period is also dependent on the type of test you take, such as:
• Nucleic acid test (NAT) – Can detect HIV infection 10 to 33 days after exposure
• Antigen/antibody test – Usually detects infection 18 to 45 days after exposure
• Antibody test – Most rapid and at-home tests can take 23 to 90 days to detect infection
If you get tested for HIV after potential exposure and it comes back negative, get tested again after the window period has expired to confirm the result.
How Often Should You Be Tested?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends everyone ages 13 to 64 get tested at least once as part of routine health care. You should consider yearly or more frequent testing if you:
• Have had unprotected sex with more than one partner since your last screening
• Are a sexually active gay or bisexual man
• Use intravenous (IV) drugs including steroids, hormones or silicone
• Have been diagnosed with tuberculosis or a sexually transmitted disease (STD) like hepatitis
It’s also recommended you get tested if you have been sexually assaulted or are pregnant or planning to be.
What You Can Expect From the Test
HIV is usually diagnosed by testing your blood or taking a cheek cell swab. There are many types of tests, including:
• Rapid HIV test – Uses a blood or fluid sample to provide results in as little as 20 minutes.
• Home HIV test – You mail a blood sample to a testing center and call for results or collect an oral fluid sample at home and use a kit to test it yourself.
• Early-detection test – Evaluates your blood for genetic material from the virus or for proteins that develop in the first weeks following infection.
If you are concerned about confidentiality, many testing sites allow you to remain anonymous or keep your personal information undisclosed. You can ask your health care provider about testing options or go online to find testing locations near you.
A negative result on an HIV test means you either don’t have the infection, or it’s too soon to tell if you do. If you believe you were recently exposed to HIV, you may want to be retested for HIV antibodies in a few months or take an early-detection test.
Although there’s no cure for HIV/AIDS, treatment has come a long way over the past few decades, allowing more people to live longer, healthier lives. Early detection and treatment can help you stay well and avoid the onset of AIDS or other complications.
HIV Specialty Care in Houston
Proper medical care is crucial for people diagnosed with HIV. St. Hope Foundation provides our patients with specialized treatment for HIV, including:
• A team of nurses and specialists to coordinate your care
• Clinical research access to breakthrough therapies
• Mental health and nutritional counseling
• Texas ADAP enrollment for HIV medications
Call 713.778.1300 to schedule your appointment or go online to find the location nearest you.