When to Get HIV Tested

August 21, 2018
doctor performing blood test

HIV is no longer the mortal threat it once was. But it remains a serious infection that must be addressed to prevent harm to one’s self or others. Infection with HIV — the virus responsible for AIDS — is treatable. But it’s essential that you get tested as soon as possible if you suspect you may have been infected. Unprotected sexual activity warrants testing, as does the sharing or reuse of potentially contaminated needles.
Other, less common routes of infection include an infected mother passing the virus to her newborn through her breast milk, for example. It is also possible to be infected by receiving contaminated donor blood or organs. This route of exposure is extremely rare, as donor blood and organs are routinely tested for evidence of HIV.

How Early Can HIV Be Detected?

Various tests are available to detect exposure to this sexually transmitted virus.

  • Rapid tests and self-testing kits
  • Rapid tests and self-testing kits tend to work best three or more months post-exposure. While they deliver results swiftly (within about 20 minutes), they are not definitive. A positive result from such a test would need to be confirmed with a more sensitive, follow-up test.
  • Third-generation antibody tests
  • These tests are capable of detecting evidence of exposure within about three months after initial exposure. These tests are highly reliable, but results are not available immediately. Test results take from a few days to a few weeks to come back.
  • Fourth-generation tests
  • A newer, fourth-generation antibody/antigen test may be able to detect evidence of exposure within one month of exposure. Unlike older tests, this newer test looks for evidence of a viral antigen (specific protein) that will eventually provoke the generation of antibodies. Results of the fourth-generation test may take from a few days to a few weeks to come back.

When to Get HIV Tested

As noted above, most tests for HIV work by detecting antibodies to the virus.
It can take up to three months for these antibodies to develop and become detectable. A newer, fourth-generation test combines detection of these antibodies with detection of a key viral antigen involved in provoking this antibody response. This test may be accurate within one month of exposure.
If you are tested soon after a suspected potential exposure event, and receive a negative result, you should follow up with another test three months after the suspected exposure, to be sure.

Who Should Get Tested for HIV?

  • Anyone who has been sexually active, without using a condom
  • Anyone who is pregnant
  • Anyone who has shared a non-sterile needle
  • Anyone who has engaged in oral, anal, or vaginal sex with a man (or men) who also engages in unprotected sex with other men
  • Anyone who has hepatitis, tuberculosis, or a sexually transmitted disease

When to Seek Help at PhysicianOne Urgent Care

If you are concerned about possible exposure to a sexually transmitted disease, such as HIV, PhysicianOne Urgent Care is here 7 days per week for high-quality urgent care, at a fraction of the cost of the Emergency Room, including HIV testing. Contact us at 1.855.349.2828, or stop in today for a convenient, walk-in visit. If you’re looking to save time, find a location near you and check in online today!

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