The most common form of HIV test is a blood test, in which a small amount of blood is taken and tested in a laboratory, the result is usually available within a few days, sometimes on the same day. These tests can provide a reliable result four weeks after exposure to HIV.
It is also possible to test for HIV using ‘point of care test kits’ which test a sample of saliva taken from the mouth or a spot of blood taken from pricking a finger with a needle. The result is available within a few minutes, in the clinic. However, it can take up to several week longer after you have been infected with HIV for the virus to show up in saliva and blood spot tests. If you are concerned you may have been infected with HIV within the past few weeks then it’s best to have the full blood test for HIV.
If the test finds no signs of infection, then your test result is ‘negative’. If the HIV virus has been found in your blood then the test result is ‘positive’.
If a point of care HIV test kit is used, then a positive result will need to be confirmed using a full blood test. All positive test results should be confirmed with another blood test.
If you test positive for HIV, you will undergo a number of tests to monitor the progress of the infection to work out when HIV treatment should be started.
As people can live with HIV for many years before having any symptoms, the only way to be sure is to have an HIV test.
There are significant benefits to being tested if you think you may have put yourself at risk of HIV infection. If you are HIV positive and remain undiagnosed, the virus may damage your immune system and compromise your future treatment options, so testing early means your health can be monitored carefully and anti-HIV drug treatment started when necessary. It may also influence the decisions you and your partner(s) may make about the type of sex that you have.
For people who think they may have been exposed to HIV, having a test and receiving a negative result (which means they are not infected with HIV), can put their mind at rest and help make decisions about protection from possible HIV infection in the future.
Although HIV can affect anyone from any community, there are population groups in the UK who are at increased risk of HIV infection. This includes:-
If you and your partner have different HIV statuses (i.e. one HIV positive and one HIV negative), it is suggested that the partner who is HIV negative has a check-up once a year, or three months after engaging in unprotected sex or if a condom breaks/splits or comes off during sex. It is also important to be aware of the availability of PEP which, if taken soon enough, can prevent HIV infection from occurring following unprotected sex.
Sexual Health Sheffield offers a free and confidential HIV testing service at all of our clinic locations.
You can also access testing at your local GP surgery (ask for details) or at the Walk-in Centre http://www.onemedicare-sheffield.co.uk or by appointment at the Department of Infectious Disease and Tropical Medicine, E Floor, Royal Hallamshire Hospital – Call 0114 271 3560 to make an appointment.
If you have any worries or concerns about HIV or the HIV test, you can discuss these with one of our Health Advisers by calling 0114 226 8888.
Obviously the decision to test is your choice but testing early means your mind can be put at rest if the result is negative or your health and well-being can be monitored if the result is positive.