Testing for HIV

Why should I take an HIV test?

The only way of knowing if you have HIV is by taking an HIV test. Tests are free, reliable, quick and confidential.

You should take an HIV test if you feel you have been at risk. Some examples could include having unprotected sex or if you have shared injecting drug equipment. For more risk factors, see the basic facts.

What does an HIV test involve?

An HIV test involves a blood sample being taken. The way the tests works is that if you have HIV your body reacts by producing antibodies which are present in your blood, the HIV test simply checks for their presence. Rapid tests may also be available which involve a saliva sample or a finger-prick test. An HIV test is the only way to tell if you have HIV.

How long should I wait to take an HIV test?

You should take an HIV test if you feel you have been at risk.

After initial infection there is a "window period" during which HIV cannot be detected by a test, this period can last from a few weeks up to 3 months. HIV diagnosis tests work by detecting HIV antibodies made by your immune system as a reaction to being infected with HIV. Even though HIV will be present in the blood stream It can take your body many weeks to produce enough antibodies to show up in a diagnosis test. If you are tested during the window period it may incorrectly show a negative result. If you're not sure about this speak with your doctor or sexual health nurse.

Once the window period has passed, the antibodies will be detectable in your blood and a definitive HIV diagnosis, whether positive or negative, can be confirmed.

However, if you think you have been at risk do not wait until the window period has passed. Contact your nearest sexual health clinic or GP who should be able to advise you on testing and protection. Use our service finder to find the nearest clinic to you.

How often should I get tested?

If you have had any potential risk factors for HIV it is important to get tested even if you have no symptoms. As with lots of sexually transmitted infections, many people who have recently contracted HIV do not feel unwell.

If you are a man who is sexually active with other men, you should routinely get tested every year or more regularly if you have had unprotected anal sex with a new or casual partner.

Our advice is that if you have a new sexual partner both of you should have a sexual health check-up, including a blood test, to make sure you are not putting each other at risk of HIV or any other sexually transmitted infection.

How long will it take to get the results?

Rapid testing can take as little as 15 minutes before you get the results. If you have blood taken results usually take between 24 hours to 2 weeks, depending where the test is done. If the test is positive you will be referred to a specialist for further advice, support and treatment. For what to expect at your first HIV specialist appointment click here.

Where can I get tested?

You can ask your Doctor for an HIV test or visit your local sexual health service. Use our Service Finder to find services near you.

Looking for information about the new instant result HIV self-test kits? Find everything you need to know.