How long after a possible exposure should I be tested for HIV?
The time it takes for a person who has been infected with HIV to seroconvert (test positive) for HIV antibodies is commonly called the "Window Period".
Recent studies show that a test taken at least 12 weeks (3 months) after the last possible exposure to the virus provides highly accurate results. Based on those studies, many testing clinics in California and other places use a 3 month window period. Rarely, a person could take up to six months to produce antibodies and that is almost always a person with a severely compromised immune system due to another disease, such as leukemia.
What does this mean for you?
If you test negative on an antibody test taken 3 months or longer after your last possible risk of possible exposure to HIV, you can feel safe in assuming that you do not have the virus. If for some reason you feel anxiety about relying on the 3-month result, you could opt to have another test taken again at 6 months.
The combination of an Elisa/Western Blot HIV Antibody Test is the traditional testing method for HIV infection. This combination test is looking for the antibodies that develop to fight the HIV virus. There are two ways to conduct this test. Either through a blood draw or through the "Orasure" method (a sample of oral mucus obtained with a specially treated cotton pad that is placed between the cheek and lower gum for two minutes). Both forms, by blood draw or orally, have the same accuracy with their results.
Another type of test that you may hear about is called "Oraquick," sometimes known as the "rapid test." This HIV-1 antibody test offers results that are highly accurate and the results can be determined within 20 minutes. It provides same day results and counseling. You should however be aware that if the results of the test come out to be "preliminary positive," there is a high probability that you have HIV, but it will be necessary to have a confirmatory test to be sure.
Testing positive for HIV means that you now carry the virus that causes AIDS. It does not mean that you have AIDS, nor does it mean that you will die as a result of the infection. Although there is no cure for AIDS, many opportunistic infections that make people sick can be controlled, prevented or eliminated. This has substantially increased the longevity and quality of life for people living with HIV.
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