HIV Testing at a Glance
- People may live longer if they know they are infected with HIV and get treatment
- A normal part of health care
- Widely available
Up to 1 out of 4 people who have HIV don't know it. Knowing if you have HIV can be essential to your sexual health. If you know you have HIV, you are more likely to get the care you need to keep from developing AIDS. If you know you don't have HIV, you can learn what you need to do to protect yourself and your partner(s) from getting it.
Testing for HIV has become faster and more convenient. Today, you have many testing options. Here are some of the most common questions we hear people ask about HIV testing. We hope you find the answers helpful.
How Do HIV Tests Work?
When someone gets HIV, the body's immune system makes antibodies to try to fight the infection. Most HIV tests available today test for HIV antibodies. If HIV antibodies are present, it means that a person is infected with HIV.
One type of HIV test detects the virus itself. This is called an RNA test. RNA testing is more expensive and much less common than antibody tests. But RNA testing can detect HIV much earlier than antibody tests — in as little as 9 to 11 days after infection.
The Window Period
It can take up to three months after you are infected to develop antibodies. This is called the "window period." During the window period, HIV antibody tests may not show that a person has the virus. It is very important to remember that HIV can be passed to other people during the window period.
What Kinds of HIV Tests Are Available?
Currently, there are several ways to test for HIV. There are blood and oral swab HIV tests. There are also urine tests for HIV, but they are rarely used.
Most blood tests involve going to a clinic, having blood drawn, and then going back to the clinic about a week later for the results.
Many health care providers now offer rapid HIV testing. A rapid test can use an oral swab or blood from a vein or finger prick. The results take as little as 20 minutes. However, rapid test results that show a person has HIV need to be confirmed with a follow-up test.
You can also test for HIV at home using either a blood or oral swab test.