What we measure
This test looks for substances in your blood, called antigens and antibodies, that indicate whether you’ve been infected with the HIV virus. Antigens are parts of the virus that trigger your immune system, while antibodies are disease-fighting proteins your body makes in response to this happening. If the specific antigens and antibodies related to the HIV virus are present in the blood, this is a sign of infection.
This test can help indicate whether you’ve been infected with the HIV virus.
The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) works by destroying specific cells in your immune system. When too many of these cells are lost, the body becomes less capable of fighting off disease.
If left untreated, HIV can develop into acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). At this stage, someone may get sick from germs that wouldn’t cause any issues in healthy people. However, today there are very effective treatments to prevent HIV from spreading or getting worse, so the earlier it’s caught, the better.
Getting a HIV test is the only way to know for sure whether you’ve been infected. Symptoms of HIV can sometimes take years to appear, so it’s important to get tested if you think you may have been exposed to the virus.
It can take a bit of time for signs of HIV to show up in the body. Generally, blood tests can pick up HIV from around a month after infection.
what to expect
Your test results will tell you whether HIV-1 and HIV-2 antibodies, plus the antigen p24, were found in your blood. These are signs of the virus, but they aren’t a diagnosis in themselves.
If signs of HIV were found, you'll need to do a follow-up test with your doctor to confirm whether you have the virus.
However, because markers of HIV can take time to appear in the body, some people with negative results may need to test again in the coming weeks.
Generally speaking, if you were exposed to the virus three or more months before taking the test, you’re less likely to have it. But if the exposure was more recent than that, you may need to do another test in the near future. Your doctor is best-placed to advise on whether you need to do the test again.
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HIV tests are highly accurate at identifying signs of the virus. But because it can sometimes take weeks or months for these signs to show up in the body, it’s possible that a test won’t pick up the virus if it’s done too soon after getting infected.
The period of time between being infected and when the virus can be detected is known as the window period.
Tests done after the window period are considered over 99% effective. Per UK guidelines, the recommended window period is 90 days for self-tests (finger prick tests) and 4 weeks for a phlebotomy (when blood is drawn from your arm).
Our tests meet high standards for best practice and quality. We’re CQC regulated, which is a quality mark for health services you can trust, UKAS accredited, and all our tests are validated by registered clinical scientists and doctors.
It can take different amounts of time for signs of the virus to develop in different people, but UK clinical guidelines state that for most people, getting a phlebotomy 4 weeks after being exposed to the virus should produce a reliable result. Your doctor may suggest getting another test 4 weeks after that, so 8 weeks after being exposed to the virus, to check again.
HIV is a sexually-transmitted disease, and is passed on through bodily fluids like blood, semen, and vaginal secretions. For someone to get HIV, infected fluid from another person has to get into their blood. This can happen if the fluid travels through the thin lining around the genitals or anus, or through cuts or sores in the skin.
HIV can also be transmitted through the sharing of needles.
Both finger prick and phlebotomy tests (having blood drawn from your arm) will be over in a matter of minutes. With finger prick tests, you just need to prick your fingertip with a small needle and collect the blood that drops out; getting a phlebotomy requires you to go to your local pharmacy and sit in their clinic room as their practitioner takes your blood.
When done after the window period (see the above question: How accurate are HIV tests? for more information), HIV tests are over 99% accurate. The chances of getting a false positive, which suggests that you have HIV when you don’t, are low.
However, in rare cases this can happen—for example, if you made a mistake while collecting your sample during a finger-prick test. If you do happen to get a false positive, this will most likely be picked up in further tests.
You can access your results in 2 working days via our website.