What’s involved in testing for HIV?
Testing for HIV is a simple and pain-free process. It involves giving a small sample of blood or swab from your mouth. Your results will be confidential (kept private). The healthcare provider will explain the process and answer any questions you have. They are there to help you.
- The basics
- In detail
Where can I get an HIV test?
What happens when you go for a test?
Before you test, the healthcare worker will ask about your sexual health and why you’ve decided to test. This will help them offer the best services and advice. The healthcare worker will explain which test you are using and how you will get your result.
During the test, they will take a small sample of blood from your finger or your arm, or a swab from your mouth. This is when you rub the testing pen along your gums to collect cells from your mouth.
After the test, they will explain how you will get your results and answer any questions.
What can I ask the healthcare professional?
There will be nothing you can say that they haven’t heard before, so be honest with them and ask as many questions as you want. That’s what they’re there for. Remember, the healthcare professional is not there to judge you.
When will I get the results?
How long it takes for HIV test results to come back will depend on the type of test you are taking. If you’re taking a rapid test, you will get your results within 20 minutes. Other types of tests will be sent to a laboratory, and it may take a few days or a few weeks to receive the result. You will then have another test or two to confirm the result.
Will it hurt? No. You may feel a small pin prick if they take a blood sample rather than a swab from your mouth.
Is it expensive? No. HIV tests are usually free.
Will the doctor judge me? No. They are there to support and help you.
Will everyone find out if I’m HIV-positive? No. Your results will be kept private.
Test your knowledge of HIV testing
HIV testing quiz
What are the different types of HIV tests and how do they work?
1. HIV antibody tests (also called third generation tests)
When a person becomes infected with HIV, their body starts to produce specific antibodies (proteins that attach to the virus to try and destroy it). An HIV antibody test looks for these antibodies in someone’s blood or oral fluid. If these antibodies are found, it means that they have HIV. This test is only accurate three months after exposure, because this is how long it takes to produce enough antibodies for it to show up in a test.
2. Combined antigen/antibody tests (also called fourth generation HIV tests)
Fourth generation tests look for HIV antibodies as well as something called p24 antigens. The p24 antigens are part of HIV itself. There will be a lot of these in a person’s blood in the first few weeks after infection. Fourth generation tests can reliably detect HIV from one month after someone has been infected.
3. Rapid HIV tests
Rapid tests give results in just 20 minutes, so results can now be given on the spot at many healthcare centres. Most test for HIV antibodies by taking a prick of blood from a person’s finger. These tests are only accurate three months after exposure. If the result is positive, the healthcare professional will double-check this with a second test.
HIV self-testing allows someone to test in the comfort of their own home. The testing kit comes with simple instructions and gives a result in 15 – 20 minutes. A positive result on a self-test kit isn’t enough to know for sure if someone has HIV, so it must be confirmed by a healthcare worker.
How can tests detect HIV orally if there’s no HIV in saliva?
Oral tests for HIV look for antibodies made by the immune system in response to HIV infection, rather than HIV itself.