At-home HIV Test
Written by Ada’s Medical Knowledge Team
For any sexually-active person, it’s important to get regular STD screenings. Getting an HIV test may feel scary but it can offer peace of mind and help you understand how to meet your unique health needs. You’ll also be able to protect your sexual partners and prevent passing on the virus. If you want to get tested for HIV, you have many options that are easy and accurate, and can even take an at-home HIV test.
What is an HIV test?
An HIV test checks for human immunodeficiency virus which can be passed on through sex as well as through birth, breast milk, blood, and infected needles. HIV damages and weakens your immune system and, if left untreated for a long period of time, can develop into AIDS. People with AIDS have a severely damaged immune system so viruses and bacteria that would normally be fought off by a healthy immune system can cause a variety of life-threatening illnesses. 1
Because HIV can be present in the body for years without causing any symptoms, it’s important to get tested regularly. Knowing your status means you can take care of yourself and your sexual partners. Taking an HIV test helps to diagnose the condition even if you don’t have any symptoms.
Diagnosing HIV early can have a huge impact on the outlook of the condition because starting treatment early prevents the immune system from getting damaged. While there is no cure for HIV, early treatment means most people with the virus won’t develop AIDS and can comfortably manage their condition with medications that keep virus levels low in the bloodstream. 1 Most HIV-positive people now live completely normal lives.
How do they test for HIV?
There are a variety of HIV tests available which all have different advantages: 2
- An antibody test is also known as a rapid HIV test or an HIV home test. You can take this test yourself at home and have the results within half an hour. For the test, you’ll need a sample of your oral fluid or some blood that you can get from a finger prick. This sample will be screened for HIV antibodies, which means that it’ll look for proteins that our body produces in response to HIV. These tests are accurate, but antibody tests that use blood directly from a vein can detect HIV sooner than home tests.
- An antigen/antibody test looks for HIV antibodies and HIV antigens which are the part of the virus that stimulate antibodies. This test is done by taking blood from a vein and sending the sample to a lab for analysis.
- A nucleic acid test (NAT) looks for the virus itself in the blood. This HIV blood test is also done by drawing blood from a vein and sending the sample to a lab for analysis. This test is more comprehensive, as it can detect HIV sooner than the other tests and as it can also assess a person’s viral load which is the amount of virus that’s in the blood. It’s important to know this as people with an undetectable viral load can’t transmit the virus to their partner.
As sex puts us at risk of several other conditions too, you might consider doing an at-home test for the 5 most common STDs. This is called an at-home panel test and can screen you for chlamydia, gonorrhea, HIV, trichomoniasis and syphilis.
When to test for HIV?
If you’re sexually active, getting tested regularly is crucial to your health and the health of your partners. Everyone should consider getting an HIV test at least once in their lives, but more frequent HIV tests are recommended for: 3
- Men who have sex with men
- Anyone with multiple sexual partners
- Any who had or has unprotected sex
- Anyone who has had sex with a HIV-positive partner
- Anyone who has had sex with a person with an unknown sexual history
- Anyone who has shared needles or syringes
How soon can HIV be detected by a blood test?
With HIV tests, it’s important to keep the window period in mind. This is the period between the possible exposure to HIV and the moment that a test can detect HIV in the body. The window period is different for each test: 2 4
- Nucleic acid test: 10-33 days
- Antigen/antibody lab test: 18-45 days
- Rapid antigen/antibody test: 18-90 days
- Antibody test: 23-90 days
As the nucleic acid test has the shortest window period, this test is most advised when you think you’ve been exposed to HIV. If the exposure has been within the last 72 hours, then you can talk to your healthcare provider about post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP), which may prevent HIV. 5 6
What does the result of my HIV test mean?
If your test result is negative, then HIV wasn’t detected in your sample. This means that you don’t have HIV, although you should keep the window period in mind and get tested again afterward if you’ve potentially been exposed. If your test comes back negative again, it means that you don’t have HIV. 7
If you’ve tested positive for HIV, a follow-up test will be done to confirm the diagnosis. If this follow-up test is positive as well, that means you have HIV. Two tests are important to avoid false positive HIV tests which are very rare, but can happen because of a faulty test or contamination in the lab. If you’ve tested positive, it’s important to notify your sexual partners and to start treatment as early as possible. 8
HIV test FAQs
Q: What does non-reactive HIV test mean?
This means that your sample tested negative for HIV or in other words, that you don’t have HIV.
Q: How much does an HIV test cost?
An HIV test is often free, or partially paid by your health insurance. Prices for HIV test kits may vary.
Q: How long does an HIV test take?
Collecting the sample for any HIV test only takes a few minutes. The timeframe for getting your results ranges from 20 minutes for the rapid HIV tests to a few days for the other HIV tests.
Q: How accurate is an HIV test?
HIV tests have an accuracy of 99-100%. However, it is important to keep the window period in mind to be able to determine whether or not you’ve been infected with HIV.
Q: How can I find an HIV test near me?
You can get tested for HIV with your general practitioner or a sexual health clinic near you. You can also order an at home test kit.
Q: How can I find a rapid HIV test near me?
You can get a rapid HIV test at a pharmacy or online. Your general practitioner can also offer you more information.
Q: Is a negative HIV test at 6 weeks conclusive?
As the window period is already closed at 6 weeks for the NAT and the antibody/antigen laboratory test, the chances of having a false negative HIV test are extremely rare. For the other tests the chances of having a false negative test after 6 weeks are also very low, but retesting after a few months is recommended.
NHS (2021): Overview HIV and AIDS. Accessed on July 13, 2022.
CDC (2022). Types of tests. Accessed on July 13, 2022.
CDC (2022). How does taking an HIV test help me?. Accessed on July 13, 2022.
CDC (2022). HIV window period. Accessed on July 13, 2022.
CDC (2022). What is PEP?. Accessed on July 13, 2022.
NHS (2021). Diagnosis HIV and AIDS. Accessed on July 13, 2022.
CDC (2022). Understanding a negative result. Accessed on July 14, 2022.
CDC (2022). Understanding a positive result. Accessed on July 14, 2022.