The only way to know for sure if you have HIV or another STD is to get tested. Just because you do not see or feel anything doesn’t mean you are STD-free. There are a number of different ways to test for HIV, including:
Types of HIV Tests
Most HIV tests detect the presence of antibodies produced by the body to fight HIV infection; they do not test for the virus itself. Most people will develop detectable antibodies within two to eight weeks (the average is 25 days), but it can take up to six months. There are several kinds of HIV tests available in the U.S. The main types of tests are:
- Conventional blood test: A blood sample is drawn by a health care provider and tested at a lab. Results are generally available within a few days to two weeks.
- Conventional oral fluid test: An oral fluid sample is collected by a health care provider, who swabs the inside of the mouth. The sample is tested at a lab. OraSure is the only Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved HIV oral fluid test. Results are generally available within a few days to two weeks.
- Rapid tests: Rapid HIV tests are performed at testing sites and can provide results in as little as 20 minutes, depending on the test. If a rapid test is negative, no further testing is needed. If a rapid test is positive, it must be confirmed with a more specific test performed in a lab. Four rapid tests recently approved by the FDA are commercially available. Some require a finger prick, others a blood draw from the arm, and one can use oral fluid.
- Home Tests: A home HIV test first came onto the market in 1997. HomeAccess, the only home HIV test currently approved by the FDA, may be purchased from many drug stores and online. An individual pricks their finger with a special device, places drops of blood on a specially treated card, and mails the card to a lab for testing. Using an identification number printed on the card, they phone for test results and may also receive counseling and referral by phone. Results can be obtained in as little as three days.
- Urine Test: A urine sample is collected by a health care provider and tested at a lab. Calypte is the only FDA-approved urine HIV test. Results are generally available within a few days to two weeks.