How does a HIV test work

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When HIV enters the body, the body starts to make antibodies right away to fight the virus. These antibodies usually show in the blood 2 to 4 weeks later.

The HIV test looks for these antibodies in the blood. An HIV test is the only way to know if a person has been infected with HIV. It is not a test for AIDS.

Rapid HIV testing is available in many health centers and hospitals at low or no cost. You can usually get test results the same day.

A positive HIV test means that you are infected with the virus and your body has made antibodies to HIV. Even if you feel completely well, you can spread the virus to others.

A negative HIV test means 1 of 2 things:

  • you are not infected with HIV, or
  • you were recently infected but your body has not yet made enough antibodies to HIV to test positive.

If you have tested negative for HIV but think you might be infected, you should take the test again in about 6 weeks. Sometimes a positive test also needs to be repeated. A health worker can help you decide.

IMPORTANT: A negative test only means that you do not have HIV when the test is taken. If you do not protect yourself, you can still get infected. Practice safer sex. Use condoms.

The HIV test should always be done:

  • with your permission.
  • with counseling before and after the test.
  • with privacy. No one should know the results except you and those you want to know.

  • Burns, A. A., Niemann, S., Lovich, R., Maxwell, J., & Shapiro, K. (2014). Where women have no doctor: A health guide for women. Hesperian Foundation.
  • Audiopedia ID: en011009