Information on how the HIV tests work, how reliable the tests are, where you can go to be tested and whether you should be tested.
Testing for HIV
The HIV test is for the presence of antibodies in the bloodstream. (It is possible to test for the virus direct, but this is far more complicated and time-consuming.)
There are two tests – your blood sample may be split into two – each of which is 98% reliable.
It may be that you only have one of these tests, in which a sample of blood is taken and the result returned within twenty minutes. If you test negative with this, then that negative is reliable. If you test positive, there is a 2% chance that this is a ‘false positive’. Further tests will be taken to make sure.
The test will detect HIV antibodies if it has been more than three months since you have been infected. If you have been infected within the last three months, then the test won’t work.
Where should you go to be tested?
It is recommended that you go to a sexual health clinic or HIV testing centre to be tested. This is for reasons of confidentiality. A sexual health clinic will never reveal your result to anyone – and need not even know who you are.
If you test via your GP, it may be that insurance companies will ask you if you have ever had an HIV test and will request your permission to contact your GP. There may be problems if you refuse this request.
Should you be tested for HIV?
If you are at all concerned that you might have been exposed to HIV, it really is best to be tested.
At best, you’ll be free of the worry.
If the result is positive, you will know that you will have to be regularly monitored and can begin treatment when necessary.
Going for a test can be scary – indeed terrifying. You should think very carefully beforehand about how you will respond if the result is positive. The doctor will try to assure himself before testing that you are not going to harm yourself if you test positive. Counseling will also be offered afterwards.
If I test negative, does that mean I’m immune?
No. It means you’re lucky. It is as yet impossible to become immune to HIV.