Information about HIV Testing
When should I get tested for HIV?
Testing for HIV is the only way to know for sure if you have HIV. Knowing your status means you can keep yourself and your sexual partners healthy. Being diagnosed early gives you a better chance of living a long healthy life.
Taking a test is quick, easy and free!
Take a test if you are:
-not always using a condom during sex
-pregnant (In the UK, HIV testing is offered routinely at booking with the midwife. In some higher prevalence regious (not Wiltshire currently), a repeat test is offered in the last three months of pregnancy. We are happy to test any women who feel they would need a repeat test due to ongoing risks e.g. HIV status of partner is unknown, recent changes of partner)
-sharing needles or syringes when injecting drugs
Even if you haven't recently put yourself at risk of infection, getting a HIV test at least once a year is a good habit to get into to check your sexual health if you are sexually active.
How does HIV testing work?
You can test for HIV at any time, but it can take 4 weeks after exposure for HIV tests to detect an infection (called the window period).
Some tests can take up to 3 months after exposure for HIV tests to detect an infection
The usual test method is a blood sample; either by venous blood (usually from your arm) or a finger prick.
Getting your results
The time between testing and getting the results depends on the type of test you have, there are two tests method which we use in our clinics:
-Rapid test (finger prick): results within 5 minutes whilst you are in clinic
-Laboratory tests: depending on the clinical situation/urgency, results are available from 2 hours to 2 weeks from taking the sample. We currently aim to notify routine results to patients within 2 weeks of their visit
Modern HIV tests are very accurate, and our lab currently uses a 4th generation test (p24 antigen plus HIV 1 and 2 antibody). Sometimes a laboratory test can be reported as 'reactive'. This does not mean that the result is definitely positive but that it needs further testing to give us the correct result (which can still be negative)
If your result is reactive, we may be required to take a second blood sample to confirm a result
There is always a time between potential exposure to an infection and the point when a test will give an accurate result. This is called the 'window period'. During the window period a person can be infected with HIV and be very infectious but still test HIV negative.
The window periods are different for the different types of tests.
-Finger prick test - The window period is 3 months. 95% of infections will be detected at 6 weeks
-Laboratory test - The window period is 4 weeks. At this time 95% of infections will be detected. The same test will detect 99% of HIV infections at 6 weeks and 99.9% of HIV infections at 3 months.
A negative test at 4 weeks is strongly reassuring, however if you have had a recent change in partner or high risk, you may be advised to repeat the test in 3 months time.
What happens next?
Receiving a positive result:
This means that HIV has been detected in your body. Don't worry - there is treatment for HIV that will keep you healthy. Your results are only shared with health workers involved in your care. We will advise you on:
-referral onto a treatment plan
-if pregnant; start you on treatment to prevent transmission to your baby
-where to get information and support on living with HIV
-taking precautions if living or travelling abroad
Receiving a negative result:
This means you don't have HIV but remember:
-protect yourself with a condom during sex
-find out about Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) as an option to protect yourself against HIV
-if you inject drugs, do it safely - don't share needles or syringes
-have regular tests for HIV and other STI's
-if you have taken a HIV test within the window period since exposure to HIV, test again after 3 months
If you have had unprotected sex or shared needles or syringes when injecting drugs since your last HIV test, test again!
Opening times for Department of Sexual Health, Salisbury District Hospital (GUM)
- Monday: 09:00 - 17:00
- Tuesday: 09:00 - 17:30
- Wednesday: 09:00 - 16:00
- Thursday: 09:00 - 17:30
- Friday: 09:00 - 12:00
- Saturday: CLOSED
- Sunday: CLOSED
For walk in times at the Department of Sexual Health, click on the view clinic button below.
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