Getting An HIV Test
When to go for an HIV test
You can test for HIV at any time. Even if you think that you are not at risk, regular testing is important. Many people only test when they feel sick or they are losing weight. This is incorrect. HIV can live in your body for many years before you feel sick, and the earlier you know your status the earlier you can start treatment. Starting treatment early and sticking to treatment without skipping or stopping leads to viral load suppression. This is when the amount of HIV in the body is so low that it is undetectable by a viral load test. When HIV is suppressed it is not doing harm to the immune system, which protects the body from infection and disease.
How an HIV test works
There are different types of HIV tests. The type used in Government facilities and pharmacies is a rapid test which looks for HIV antibodies in the blood. HIV antibodies are made by the body when HIV is present. However, it can take 4-6 weeks for the body to make these HIV antibodies and that means the test can't pick up that a person has HIV even though the virus is present. This is called the window period. The window period is why you should go back and test again 4-6 weeks after the first HIV test.
There are tests which can detect HIV early on before the HIV antibodies are present. These tests look for the p24 antigen which is a part of HIV instead of HIV antibodies. These tests are called PCR HIV tests.