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Anonymous on November 14, 2011

What is the window period for HIV testing?

I had a potential HIV exposure on a past weekend and began having symptoms that caused me concern five days later. Eight days after potential exposure, I had an HIV Early Detection test. Today the results came back negative. How confident should I be in this result? Doctors I have spoken to seem to think that even with my symptoms, the actual risk is very low. I would appreciate you sharing any information you might have in similar situations, i.e., similar timelines or anecdotal evidence. Also what is the earliest positive from HIV DNA testing known?

answered by
Lisa Oldson, MD on November 14, 2011

Thank you for sharing your concern. Without viewing your test results and discussing your symptoms with you, it’s not appropriate for me to give you medical advise. I encourage you to speak with your doctors ⎼ who can view your individual results and discuss your specific symptoms ⎼ for more personal answers to your specific questions. In the meantime, I can give you some general information about HIV testing which I hope you’ll find helpful.

First, what is an HIV Early Detection test? It’s a sensitive type of HIV test that, in some instances, has detected the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in the blood as early as 6 days after exposure...but it’s more likely to return an accurate test result after 21 days. Keep in mind that our HIV Early Detection test, also includes an HIV Antibody test to increase the likelihood of detecting the virus if it is present.

How confident should you be in your early HIV test result? You mentioned that you were tested with the HIV Early Detection test eight days after your possible exposure. Although this is within the period of time that the test could pick up the virus, it would be more likely to return an accurate result if you wait a bit longer. So, if you’d like to be more confident in your negative status, I’d encourage you to wait 21 days after your possible exposure, and then take this test again.

Or, you could wait longer to re-test with a different HIV test...the HIV Antibody test. This is the most common HIV test, and it screens your blood sample for antibodies to both HIV-1 and HIV-2. Most people who are newly infected with HIV will have a positive HIV Antibody result 25 days after acquiring the virus. And according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 97% of people who have been infected with HIV will have detectable antibodies after 12 weeks. You can learn more about HIV testing timelines on our STD Testing Windows Guide.

One more thing, regarding your symptoms. Keep in mind that early HIV symptoms resemble symptoms of the flu...so the only way to know whether the cause of your symptoms is HIV is to get tested, as you’re already doing...and anytime you’re having unexplained symptoms, its the safest bet to see your doctor in person for an examination.

Thanks again for coming to us, and I hope this information helps you make the best decisions for your health...and for your peace of mind.

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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