What is HIV Testing?
The surest way to tell if you have HIV is to get tested. Most people often feel nervous about it, but the potential benefits of getting tested far much outweigh the reasons not to. Knowing your HIV status means you can keep both yourself and your partner safe and healthy. What’s more, being diagnosed early gives you a greater chance of living a long and healthy life.
Do I need to undergo a HIV test?
You should undergo HIV testing if:
- You have had unprotected intercourse.
- You have recently been diagnosed with another STI.
- You are worried about your HIV status and would want to put your mind at ease.
- You have recently shared needles or any other injecting equipment.
It is also imperative to note that even if it is unlikely that you have HIV, the quickest and surest way to stop worrying is through HIV testing. As long as you are sexually active, you should get into the habit of testing routinely for HIV, even if you always use protection and don’t think you have been at risk.
Testing for HIV
HIV infection will result in the affected individual producing antibodies, which are blood proteins used by your immune system to fend off pathogens such as bacteria and viruses.
HIV tests usually involve detecting these antibodies to tell whether HIV infection is present in a person or not. The standard way of testing involves a lab-based blood test.
What is the HIV window period?
The window period refers to the time between HIV infection and the point when the HIV test will provide an accurate result. It takes time for the body to produce enough antibodies for an HIV test to reveal that a person has HIV.
During this period, a person can have HIV and be highly infectious but still may test HIV negative. On most occasions, the HIV window period is 3 months. However, in some instances, it can be even longer.
If the HIV test is carried out within the window period, you are highly encouraged to repeat the test, possibly 3 months after exposure. This is because there is a chance the initial results may not be accurate.
So, what are the various types of HIV testing?
The various types of HIV testing that can be performed include:
- HIV RNA/DNA PRC Test: This is usually recommended when the time of exposure is between 10 and 14 days. It is a blood test and the duration for results varies between one and two weeks. This test screens for evidence of HIV to suggest a positive HIV infection. This test is ideal for early HIV screening in people with high exposure risks. It can also be used in instances where the Western blot results aren’t conclusive.
- Western Blot HIV Test: This is a test usually used to confirm a positive HIV diagnosis. During the test, a sample of your blood is drawn and used to detect HIV antibodies, but not HIV. The Western Blot HIV test separates the blood proteins, detects the specific proteins (HIV antibodies) that show an HIV infection. The Western blot is used to confirm a positive ELISA, and these two tests are 99.9% accurate.
- Rapid HIV test that includes the 3rd generation and 4th generation HIV p24 Ab/Ag test.
- HIV Antibody Test: Ideal for those with a window period of more than four weeks. It is a blood test and provides results within one to three days. This is a blood test usually offered as an HIV screening test. It is a suitable, reliable and highly accurate way to identify the presence of certain antibodies. A positive HIV ELISA antibody test will show results after between 3 and 6 weeks.
It is important to note that there is no reliable HIV test for exposure within the first 10 days of exposure. This is why you are highly advised to consult your doctor within the first 3 days after potential HIV exposure to consider PEP (Post-Exposure Prophylaxis).
What is a Rapid HIV Screening Test?
It refers to test kits that were approved in 2007 by MOH for use in screening HIV. There are two distinct kits, including the 3rd generation and the 4th generation HIV p24 Ab/Ag test, or the antibody test.
This procedure is conducted through a prompt finger-prick blood test as opposed to the usual phlebotomy. If you are always afraid of the needle, this test is suitable for you!
- 3rd Generation Rapid HIV Antibody Test: It is recommended when your window period is more than four weeks. It is also a finger prick test that provides results within minutes.
- 4th Generation HIV p24 Antibody and Antigen Test: Recommended when the window period is between two and four weeks. It is a finger prick test that give instant results. This typically detects p24 antigen and HIV antibodies.
It’s worth noting that the p24 antigen is the first viral antigen that usually appears in the body after infection. This test reduces the window period of testing by 2 to 4 weeks.
How fast can I get the result?
Rapid HIV tests usually produce results in 20 minutes. This significantly reduces your anxiety of having to wait for unknown results.
A positive result will require a different, confirmatory test which will be sent to the lab. On the other hand, a negative rapid test doesn’t need confirmation testing.
Do speak to your doctor if you have further questions for a peace of mind!