Anonymous on September 2, 2011

What if I have sex with a woman before HIV is detectable on her HIV test?

I read that HIV will take three to six months to be discovered by a medical test. What if I had sex with a woman (who doesn’t know whether she has HIV) and then, six months later, she tests positive for HIV? Will I also be infected, even if her virus wasn’t detected while we were having sex?

answered by Eric Christoff, MD, AAHIVM on September 2, 2011

You bring up some great points about HIV and STD testing. The accuracy of test results is higher if you get tested at the right time.

When is the best time to get tested for HIV? In most people, HIV won’t show up right away. For the most accurate test result, testing is recommended at three months after possible exposure to the virus. For more information about when to get tested for HIV and other STDs, see our easy-reference Testing Windows chart.

Although uncommon, there’s always a chance of a false-negative (a negative test result despite the presence of infection). So you and your partner may want to confirm your test results at three months, and again at six months after exposure. That said, if your partner tested negative at three months, it’s unlikely that she has HIV.

However, if there’s a chance that you’re at risk for HIV, you’re also at risk for other STDs. While you’re getting tested for HIV, consider getting tested for other common STDs as well. To learn more about other STDs, visit our Expert Guide to STD Basics. The earlier an STD is detected, the more effectively it can be treated and, in some cases, cured.

If your partner is HIV-positive, even if she didn’t know it when she had sex with you, you’re at risk. If she tests positive for HIV six months after you have sex with her, she may have gotten HIV after your encounter, before your encounter or even from you. Since HIV often has no symptoms, it’s possible to have it and not know.

Again, getting tested for a full panel of STDs is the only way to know your status for sure.

Early detection of HIV (or other STDs) can improve your overall health…it may even save your life. With proper treatment, HIV can take more than 10 years to progress to AIDS – if at all – and other infections can also be slowed or avoided altogether. And, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, if you catch another STD early and treat it, you lower your risk of getting HIV. That’s why getting tested regularly is so important.

In future, practice safer sex. You can greatly reduce your risk of STDs by using protection (using condoms or dental dams), being monogamous, and making sure that you and any new sexual partner(s) get tested and know each other’s STD status before you have sex.

If you have anal sex, I suggest using plenty of lubricant so that the condom doesn’t break.

I’m glad you brought up these valuable points about HIV risks and testing. For more information about HIV – including symptoms, complications and treatment – see our Expert Guide to HIV.

I wish you all the best as you continue to educate yourself about your sexual health.

Eric Christoff, MD, AAHIVM

Dr. Christoff is a practicing physician at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, as well as Assistant Professor of Clinical Medicine at the Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University. His areas of expertise include the treatment of HIV and syphilis along with other STDs, the medical treatment of depression and chronic fatigue, and the specific health needs of gay and lesbian patients. Dr. Christoff was educated at the University of Toledo, College of Medicine and completed his residency at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center in Chicago, IL.

Related Q&A's