Expert Answers Factual Answers to Your Sexual Health Questions
What is the test for HIV?
I want to get tested HIV, but I don’t know anything about HIV tests. Can you help?
Lisa Oldson, MD on October 20, 2011
It’s great that you’re taking steps to protect your sexual health by getting tested for HIV. I’ll do my best to provide you some information to help you make an informed decision about HIV testing.
First, there are a number of tests available to test for HIV...but the two most common and reliable HIV tests are the Early HIV Detection Test and the HIV Antibody Test.
If you had unprotected sex recently, or if you’re worried that you shared intravenous drug needles with someone who may be HIV-positive, you might want to take the early detection test. This test may detect HIV in your blood as early as six days after possible exposure to the virus, although our medical team recommends that you wait at least 21 days to ensure the most accurate test results. Just so you know, if you test with us, an HIV Antibody test is automatically included with the Early Detection test for free.
The HIV Antibody Test looks for your body’s response to infection by screening for antibodies to both HIV-1 and HIV-2. Everyone’s body is different...some people develop antibodies right away, while other people take longer to develop detectable antibodies. But according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most people with HIV will have a positive antibody test by 25 days after exposure, and 97% of those with HIV will have a positive antibody test by 12 weeks.
In other words, if you choose to that the HIV Antibody Test, you’re more likely to have a reliable result if you wait 12 weeks after possible exposure.
Choose the HIV test that’s right for you. We know that waiting is hard...that’s why we offer the Early Detection Test. But if you’re just interested in a general screening to know your HIV status, and if you aren’t worried about a recent potential infection, then an antibody test is the gold standard for HIV testing.
And if turns out that you’re positive for HIV, take heart. HIV medications are improving all the time, helping people with HIV to live longer, healthier lives. But early detection is key. The sooner you know your status, the sooner you can start treatment, if needed.
To learn more about HIV testing, as well as HIV risks and treatment options, I encourage you to turn to our Expert Guide to HIV.
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.