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HIV testing fact sheet

Testing for HIV is the only way to know if you have an HIV infection.

Get all the facts about HIV testing from this fact sheet.

How to test for HIV

HIV testing is available from healthcare providers. They take one of the following:

  • blood sample
  • oral fluid sample.1

When should I get an HIV test?

You can test for HIV at any time in order to know your status. Take a test if you are...

  • not always using condoms
  • sharing needles & syringes to inject drugs
  • pregnant
  • breastfeeding.

Know your status. Get your test results

The time between testing and getting the results changes depending on the type of test.

  • Rapid test results are ready in 30 minutes or less.
  • Laboratory test results can take much longer, up to a few weeks in some places.2

If you test HIV-positive - HIV has been detected in your body

  • Get the facts about living with HIV
  • Find out if you need to begin treatment
  • Get advice and support
  • Use a condom to protect sexual partners
  • Never share needles and syringes
  • If pregnant, access services to prevent transmission to your baby
  • Take precautions if living or travelling in places with high TB prevalence.

If you test HIV-negative - you do not have HIV

  • Get the facts about staying negative
  • Protect yourself during sex
  • Never share needles and syringes
  • Have regular HIV and sexually transmitted infection (STI) tests.

HIV window period

What is the HIV window period?

It refers to the weeks following exposure to HIV when an HIV test may not detect infection yet.

How long is the HIV window period?

It can be between 2 weeks and 3 months, depending on the individual and the type of test used.3

After an HIV test

  • A confirmatory test confirms that your HIV test result is correct – some tests need a second fluid specimen.
  • A negative result is only reliable if it is taken outside the window period after possible exposure to HIV. (Check what the window period is for the tests available in your area).  
  • If you have unprotected sex or share needles & syringes again, test again
  • Modern HIV tests are very accurate at detecting HIV infection
  • Waiting for results can cause you anxiety. AVERT.org is a trusted source of information; you can also share your experiences with others.

Types of HIV test

  • Antibody test - detects HIV antibodies in the blood
  • Antigen test or P24 - detects HIV proteins in the blood
  • Fourth generation test - detects HIV antibodies and HIV proteins in blood.4

Where to get an HIV test

HIV testing is available at many healthcare clinics, hospitals and sexual health clinics.

Free HIV testing is widely available in many countries. If not, then the cost of an HIV test depends on your clinic and location.

Find where to get an HIV test with NAM’s e-atlas.

Know your rights

You have the right to:

  • request an HIV test
  • refuse an HIV test if you feel forced into it
  • test confidentially. Test results should never be shared without your consent.

Last full review: 
01 March 2016

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Last updated:
09 May 2017
Last full review:
01 March 2016
Next full review: