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Know your status – what you need to know about HIV testing

Know your status – what you need to know about HIV testing

Knowing your HIV status is really important.  HIV is a treatable condition and modern antiretroviral treatment is really effective and easy to take.  When started promptly, HIV treatment allows you to stay healthy and importantly prevents transmission of the HIV virus to anyone else.  If you wait and delay starting treatment, the virus can do damage to your immune system.  Getting an HIV test has never been simpler and some tests can give you results within minutes.

How do HIV tests work?

HIV testing is carried out on a blood sample.  The test looks for either a viral protein related to HIV (antigen) or a protein your body produces in an attempt to fight HIV (antibody).  Fourth generation tests combine these 2 methods.  HIV tests are very reliable, but it is important that validated or approved tests are used – at Northwell Medical we offer accredited tests, ensuring reliable results. 

When should I test for HIV?

This depends on when you may have been exposed to HIV – your doctor will advise on this during your consultation.  Tests are not always reliable if taken too soon after potential exposure to HIV so if your risk was very recent, you may be recommended to take a test again several weeks later.  If you think you have been exposed to HIV in the previous 72 hours, then contact your local NHS GUM clinic for advice on PEP medication (post exposure prophylaxis). 

How often should I test?

HIV testing is recommended for everyone at least once per year.  It is also useful to test for other sexually transmitted infections at the same time.  Depending on how many sexual partners you have, you may consider testing more frequently than this. 

Gay or bisexual men who have sex with men are advised to test for HIV every 3 months, if having sex without condoms with new or casual partners.  Trans people should test for HIV every 3 months if having sex with gay or bisexual men.  Anyone who is sexually active when travelling to countries where HIV incidence is high should also test for HIV more frequently.  

Getting your result

At Northwell Medical your result will be made available to you as soon as possible, as we understand the wait for test results can be unsettling.  Rapid or same-day results are available on request.  Should you require further testing this will be advised by your doctor and a follow up appointment can be arranged for this.