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Anonymous on October 18, 2011

Can you tell me when to test for HIV?

Hi. I want to know when to test for HIV. I ended up going home with a guy I met last night and we had sex. We didn’t use a condom and now I’m really worried...what if he had HIV? Can I get tested for HIV right away, or do I have to wait?

answered by Lisa Oldson, MD on October 18, 2011

I’m glad you asked this question, because it’s a question I get a lot. 

When to test for HIV depends on what type of test you’d like to take, but you’ll need to wait at least a week before getting screened. That said, there are two main types of safe and reliable tests that screen for HIV: the HIV Early Detection Test and the HIV Antibody Test
 

  • The HIV Early Detection Test may detect HIV in the blood as early as six days after possible exposure…but, for the most accurate results, it’s best to wait 21 days.
     
  • The HIV Antibody Test requires that you wait at least three weeks before getting tested...but you’ll have the best chance of an accurate test result if you wait at least 12 weeks after your possible exposure to HIV before you get an antibody test. This test is “type-specific,” which means that it screens for both HIV-1 and HIV-2. It’s also the most common HIV test, and it’s recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In fact, the CDC reports that most people with HIV show a positive antibody test result after 25 days, and 97% of people with HIV have a positive antibody test result by 12 weeks.

If you’re sexually active, getting tested for HIV and other common STDs is the best way stay on top of your sexual health and well-being...it’s especially important to get tested if you’ve had unprotected sex with someone you don’t know. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that 1 in 5 people with HIV don’t know they’re infected with HIV...so it’s a good idea to get tested to know your status for sure. The sooner you know where you stand, the sooner you can get treated, if necessary. 

Thanks again for your great question. Hopefully this information helps you understand your options about when to test for HIV. 

Related info:

Lisa Oldson, MD

Dr. Oldson is Medical Director of the Analyte Physicians Group. She is on staff at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, as well as Clinical Instructor at the Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University. Her areas of expertise include STDs (with a particular clinical emphasis on herpes), women's health, preventive medicine, diabetes, obesity and weight management, and mood and anxiety disorders. Dr. Oldson was educated at Rush Medical College and completed her residency at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center in Chicago, IL.

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