Whether you’re at risk or not, everyone should get tested for HIV. Find out why…
Who should get tested?
Everyone! The only way to know if you have HIV is by getting tested. You cannot tell if someone has HIV or AIDS just by looking at them. HIV and AIDS cannot be diagnosed through specific symptoms. If you think you are at risk you should seek medical attention immediately.
What is the “window period”?
HIV infection cannot be detected in the blood immediately. It takes few weeks for the levels of HIV to become detectable. The period in which a person is first infected with HIV but does not yet test positive is referred to as the “window period”.
What kinds of HIV tests are there?
HIV tests look for antibodies or both antibodies and antigens. Antibodies are proteins that are produced by your immune system that stick to specific pathogens like HIV. Antigens are toxins or foreign substances, like HIV, that stimulate an immune response.
Three main types of HIV test are available: rapid tests; home tests; and early-detection HIV tests.
Rapid tests require a tiny amount of blood (usually obtained from tiny finger prick or from a vein) or through other fluids like urine or saliva. Results are available within minutes. The oral test that uses saliva eliminates the need for blood. These tests give a positive result based on HIV-related antibodies, not the virus itself. If positive, a follow-up blood test is done to confirm the result. These tests are accurate about 2–8 weeks after infection.
For home testing, an individual mails a drop of blood and then calls a number to receive their results. Blood is obtained through a quick finger prick. Results are usually available within a week.
Early-detection HIV testing is the most accurate because it specifically looks for genetic material from the virus or proteins that are produced as a result of HIV infection. These tests can detect HIV before your body has reacted by producing antibodies.
When should I get tested?
You should always know your HIV status. Knowledge is power. There’s nothing worse than the fear of not knowing. If you’re negative, great—you can continue to take precautions. If you’re positive, don’t worry—no cure exists, but with the right treatment you can live a normal life.
If you have more than one sexual partner, you should have a test at least once a year. At the start of a relationship, you and your partner should get tested, especially if you plan to have unprotected sex. If you’ve had unprotected sex that could have put you at high-risk of infection, then you should also get tested
Where can I get tested?
HIV tests are free and confidential. You can get tested at sexual health clinics, HIV-testing centres and walk-in clinics, and GPs/family doctors.
What if I test positive?
Stay calm, you are not alone. You will be given a follow-up test to confirm you’re result and you’ll be offered counselling and treatment. HIV treatment is now so effective that people living with HIV can live effectively normal lives. You don’t have to tell past sexual partners about your positive test, but it is strongly advised that you do so they can get tested too. Healthcare staff can anonymously contact previous partners for you.
What if I test negative?
Relief is probably the first thing you’ll feel, regardless of whether you were at risk or not. Life can go on. But you shouldn’t let your guard down. It only takes one mistake. So continue to use protection and enjoy having safe and worry-free sex.
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