An exposure happened. You may have HIV. This something that thousands struggle with and the choice to be tested for HIV can be frightening. There’s a lot of uncertainty that goes along with the chance of exposure: when should I get tested? How often do I need to be tested? When am I “in the clear” for testing positive?
When Should You Be Tested?
If you’ve had an exposure, the virus won’t be detectable by testing immediately. The earliest that any test can pick up on the presence of the virus or antibodies is 1 to 3 weeks after infection. This test is the antigen (RNA) test that looks for the virus itself, not the presence of antibodies. A PCR test, mainly used to detect the presence of HIV in newborns, looks for a similar type of viral presence by detecting viral DNA.
At 2 to 8 weeks after infection, most people have enough HIV antibodies in their system for the standard antibody test. After 12 weeks (3 months) most people will have developed enough antibodies for a definitive positive/negative result.
How Often Should You Be Tested?
The first test should be taken within 2 to 4 weeks of exposure. If this test is negative, then another test at 3 months will give a more definitive result. Should that test also read negative, a final test at 6 months after exposure will be able to tell whether or not a person is HIV-negative or positive. Most people who contract HIV will test positive at 4 weeks, almost everyone will test positive at 12 weeks and the remainder of those who contract it will test positive at 6 months.
If you’ve been tested for HIV and received a negative test result, it’s highly recommended to continue being tested for up to 6 months.