• If you’ve put yourself at risk, it’s best to speak to a healthcare professional immediately.
• Get tested regularly (once a year) – it’s an important part of good sexual health.
• If you’re pregnant, it’s important to be tested for HIV – most countries offer this as part of their antenatal care routine. It’s possible to prevent transmission from mother to baby – but only if you know your status.
• There is a time gap between potential infection and when a test will give an accurate result. This varies according to the type of test, so check with your healthcare professional.
You can test for HIV at any time. If you think you have put yourself at risk, then speak with a healthcare professional immediately. Even if you think that you have not put yourself at risk, testing regularly for HIV is still an important part of good sexual health.
I’m at risk, when should I test?
If you have had unprotected sex, shared injecting equipment or think that infected blood has got into your body, then you should talk to your doctor or a healthcare professional as soon as possible. They will be able to talk to you about your situation and risk, and decide on the best course of action.
Most modern HIV tests are now able to detect HIV from around 11 days after infection. Depending on the type of test you are offered and when your risk was, your doctor may ask you to come back for further tests and a follow-up before a true result can be given.
If you think you have been exposed to HIV, it is in this early stage of infection that you are most infectious to others. Be sure to be extra careful during this period – always use condoms and never share injecting equipment.
I don’t think I’m at risk, when should I test?
Testing at least once a year for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) is good sexual health practice for everyone who is sexually active. By doing this regularly, you can help keep your mind at rest, and any surprises that do arise can be dealt with quickly.
I’m pregnant, when should I test?
Testing for HIV during your pregnancy is very important and is now done routinely as part of antenatal care in most countries. Your doctor will tell you everything you need to know about HIV testing alongside the other blood tests they do in pregnancy and you will usually be tested at your first appointment.
If you find out you are positive, you will be given treatment to prevent the onward transmission of HIV to your unborn child, and you will be expected to continue to have a healthy pregnancy. The earlier you start treatment, the greater chance your child will be born HIV-negative. Check out our section on Pregnancy, childbirth & breastfeeding for more information.
A word about window periods…
The window period refers to the time it takes for HIV to show up in a specific HIV test. The length of the window period will depend on the type of test you take. If you feel like you may be at risk of HIV, do not wait, speak to a healthcare professional as soon as possible. The most important thing is to test. If you have tested negative but think you may have been exposed to HIV recently, you can take another test once the window period passes.
What is mandatory HIV testing?
Some countries require you to get an HIV test in order to enter the country. For further information about countries that have travel restriction, please see the Global Database on HIV travel.
In addition, some insurance companies and employers such as the armed forces may require you to test for HIV. You should always seek advice from a health care professional first if you are unsure.
AVERT does not support mandatory testing for HIV. HIV testing should be given with full consent and proper support to yourself, unless in the case of blood donor screening and organ donation.
Read on to find out: What’s involved in HIV tests?
Photo credit: ©iStock.com/GalinaPhoto. Photos are used for illustrative purposes. They do not imply any health status or behaviour on the part of the people in the photo.