Skip to main content

Getting tested for HIV

If you’re busy in the bunker, you should be getting tested regularly – every three months for HIV and other STIs.

An HIV test is usually done on a sample of your blood. HIV tests these days often look for two signs of infection:

  • antibodies to the virus (our bodies make antibodies to fight infections)
  • antigen – this is part of HIV. It can be found in the blood of people who have picked up HIV in the previous few weeks (and before their body has made antibodies).

Testing these days is easy and you have lots of options, including clinics and your GP. It’s also easy to test yourself with a home postal test kit.

What a positive HIV test result means

If you get a positive result it means:

  • you’re HIV positive; that is, you’ve been infected with HIV
  • you can infect others if you have unsafe sex or share drug taking equipment such as needles, filters and so on.

Your doctor will start you on treatment as soon as you’ve been diagnosed. Delaying treatment lets the virus attack your immune system and can weaken it. You can expect to be undetectable within six months – undetectable means you can’t pass on HIV.

What a negative HIV test result means

If you get a negative result it means you’re HIV negative; that is, you don’t have HIV. But this is true only if the test was done at least three months after the last time you did something that put you at risk of getting HIV.

If you do something that puts you at risk of getting HIV and then get a negative test, it doesn’t mean you can take risks in the future and stay uninfected. No-one should believe they’re immune to HIV.

How soon after a risk can I test?

What testing service you should use, and which type of test, depends on when you might have been exposed to HIV. Signs of HIV infection don’t show up in the blood right away. It normally happens within four weeks of infection, but can be longer.

If your risk was recent, then you should test immediately, then follow up with a second one a few weeks later in case the first one missed.

If your risk was in the last three months, it’s better to go to the clinic and tell the person testing you, as it may affect the type of test you’re given.

A self test is not guaranteed to pick up an infection that’s occurred in the previous three months. If you think you’ve been exposed in the last three months, you should get a test at the clinic.

Very occasionally it can take up to three months for antibodies to appear in the blood, so an HIV negative result is only totally accurate if three months have passed between the test and the last time a risk was taken. However, a negative result four to eight weeks after taking a risk is a very good sign that HIV infection hasn’t happened.

Tests and their exposure times:

  • Self test kits where you read your results at home immediately will test for infection 3 months after exposure.
  • Postal sampling kits where you send off a sample of your blood will test four weeks after exposure.
  • At the clinic there are two types of test. A rapid test will detect 4-6 weeks after exposure; a lab test is highly accurate 4 weeks after exposure.

More info:

Last review: 08/11/2018
Next review: 08/11/2021