How long should I wait to get an accurate HIV test?

Identifying the time point at which someone thinks may have caught HIV is important. Once someone recognises that they have been exposed to HIV infection, they should not delay testing for HIV and the test can be done as soon as this risk is identified.

Our HIV test may be able to detect infection at an early stage. A reactive result should be followed up with confirmatory tests in a clinic, whilst a non reactive result means that no HIV antibodies have been detected.

It is beneficial to diagnose the infection as early as possible because people can be highly infectious during the ‘acute’ stage of HIV infection. This acute stage can begin two to six weeks after exposure.

The test is most able to detect infection after 45 days since exposure. This means that if someone has had a negative result, but their test was done before 45 days since their exposure to risk, that person could still possibly have HIV – i.e. it could be a false negative. They should therefore have another test at 45 days after their exposure to risk.

At this point, it is highly unlikely to get a negative result in someone who has picked up HIV infection and so a negative result can accurately rule out infection.

Anyone who is at continued risk of being exposed to HIV should test regularly.

Last updated at: 08 March 2022


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