Anonymous on November 2, 2011

What is a HIV test?

What happens during a HIV test? What do I have to provide and what does the test look for?

answered by Lisa Oldson, MD on November 2, 2011

You asked a great question, and you’re not alone. Many people are concerned about what an HIV test is...and, depending on your situation, there are two HIV testing options to choose from. I’m happy to help you learn more about them.

What HIV tests are available? We offer two HIV tests that analyze a blood sample you provide at a local lab. The HIV Early Detection test looks for HIV in the blood and the HIV Antibody test looks for antibodies that your immune system creates in response to the virus.

What’s the difference between the two tests?

The HIV Early Detection test may pick up the virus as early as 6 days after possible exposure...but I encourage people to wait 21 days to test, to ensure the most accurate test results. This test is a great choice if you’re worried about recent contact with HIV and you want fast answers. Our Early Detection test also includes a standard HIV Antibody test. In other words, you are tested for HIV in two different ways for confirmation of your results.

The HIV Antibody test is the gold standard in HIV testing for people looking to get an HIV screening...and it’s the most commonly used test to screen for both HIV-1 and HIV-2. Keep in mind that most people recently infected with HIV will test positive 25 days after contracting HIV using this test. But for the most reliable results, waiting 12 weeks may be a good idea. Why 12 weeks? People develop antibodies to HIV at different rates, but according to the Centers for Control and Prevention (CDC), 97% of people will have developed detectable antibodies to HIV within 12 weeks of contracting the virus. You can learn more about when to get tested in our testing windows guide.

If you test positive on either test, our doctors are available to counsel you about your results and your next steps for staying healthy, including recommendations for seeing an HIV specialist who can help you determine if and when you should consider taking medication to manage the virus. The good news is that HIV medications ⎼ especially when administered early on ⎼ do a great job of helping people live longer, healthier lives with HIV.

If you’re interested to learn more about HIV and HIV testing, you might want to browse our Expert Guide to HIV.

Thanks again for your question, and I wish you the best of health.

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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