A simple HIV test will detect the presence of the HIV infection in your body. It’s important to point out from the beginning that what it will not do is detect how long you have been infected or if the HIV virus has developed into AIDs. The test works by detecting the presence of antibodies in your blood stream. Whenever you are infected with a foreign bacteria or virus, your immune system will produce specific antibodies to try and eliminate it from your body. HIV tests detect the specific antibodies your body produces in response to the presence of the HIV virus.
This guide will go through some of the things that you can expect during a HIV test and some of the things that you should be aware of. For a full example of the difference between HIV and AIDs check out our full guide on the topic.
Understanding the Window Period
One of the first things to understand is that your body will take several weeks (the period is usually between two and twelve for the vast majority of people but it can take much loner in some rare cases) to start producing HIV antibodies. This is called the window period.
Whilst there are some tests that look to detect the virus itself (it’s worth asking what kind of test you will be taking) you will usually have one that finds antibodies. This causes some confusion. What this essentially means is that you could be infected with the HIV virus but still test as negative if you are still in the “window period.” Take the following as an example: if you have sex at the beginning of the week on a Sunday and go for a HIV test on the Wednesday or Thursday of the same week it is almost certain that you will have a negative result. If you were to go and have a test three or four weeks later it is still possible that you would test negative. For this reason it’s vital, if you are having sex with multiple partners, that you are getting a regular sexually transmitted disease test. This will mean that you will know if you have HIV but also other potentially harmful STIs.
What Happens in the Test?
Whilst the specific test for HIV will vary from country to country, there will be several similarities wherever you are. Almost all tests will be absolutely confidential and it is also rare that you have to give any personal details. You may also have to fill out a short questionnaire. Very often, you will also be given a short explanation of what the test involves.
In terms of the actual test, there are three options that are likely. The first two take several weeks to process and involve either a small toothbrush-like mechanism that you hold in your mouth for several minutes or a blood sample. There is also a much quicker test where a prick of blood is taken and you receive the results instantly.
Remember, the health structures are in place to help you and you should never be scared thatyou will not be fully supported, whatever the outcome.