You should seek testing or screening for HIV as soon as you suspect possible infection in order to begin a proper course of treatment, and to prevent spreading infection to others. Screening of HIV is extremely critical to prevent transmission of HIV from recently infected individuals.
Some HIV testing centers provide anonymous tests; and many health care providers offer counselling in addition to testing. You might want to ask your group of family or friends for emotional support if you are preparing for HIV screening or testing. But keep in mind that all positive tests for HIV should be confirmed by at least one additional test.
Babies with HIV infected mothers
Babies with HIV infected mothers may carry HIV antibodies, but may not be infected. Three to fifteen months are needed to determine if the baby has HIV (especially if no symptoms are present). Standard tests cannot determine if a baby has the HIV virus in asymptomatic cases. All pregnant women should be screened for HIV.
Because early HIV infection often causes no symptoms, a doctor can usually diagnose the human immunodeficiency virus by testing blood for the presence of antibodies (disease-fighting proteins) to HIV. HIV antibodies generally do not reach noticeable levels in the blood for 1 to 3 months after infection; the average amount of time needed is 25 days after exposure. However, it may take the antibodies as long as 6 months to be produced in quantities large enough to show up in standard blood tests.
The primary HIV blood tests used by doctors include the ELISA test (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay) and the Western blot. However, to determine whether a person has been recently infected (acute infection), a doctor can screen blood for the presence of HIV genetic material. This RNA test can be taken 9-11 days after exposure, but is more costly and are not as widely used as standard antibody tests.
Oral fluid and urine tests
Oral fluid (not salvia) and urine tests can also be used in addition to blood tests; however, urine tests are less sensitive to HIV antibodies. Results can be determined within days or as little as 20 minutes (with rapid tests).
Testing negative for HIV
If you test negative for one test, but it has been relatively recent, or if you were likely exposed to the virus (e.g. your partner has just determined that they have the virus), your doctor will probably request additional testing at a future date.
Testing positive for HIV
If you have tested positive for HIV, your doctor may recommend tests for detection of additional sexually transmitted diseases, since these STDs can become more severe with HIV infection. Additionally, your health care provider may recommend tuberculosis (TB) testing since this disease is easily treatable if caught early or within sufficient enough time for treatment.
If a positive diagnosis has been made after two or more HIV screening tests, you can begin treatment. Modern and successful treatment for HIV has made it possible to significantly reduce the number of infected cells in the body. Read here for more information on treatment for HIV in our How to Treat HIV section now.