YOUR AT-A-GLANCE GUIDE TO TESTING
The HIV Antibody Test: What Is It?
The HIV Antibody Test is the most common test gay men will have during a sexual health check. It is a blood test to find out if you’ve contracted Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV).
If you have HIV, your immune system will start producing antibodies reacting to the virus 2 to 8 weeks following exposure. These antibodies are detected by the test. If you test positive, another test will be done to confirm the result. After a second HIV positive result is confirmed, it is definite that you have HIV.
The Pre-Test Discussion Checklist
Before the test you’ll have a pre-test discussion which is a few minutes’ chat with your doctor or health care worker about the following:
- what the test means and the implications of a positive or negative result
- your behaviour since your last test to gauge how likely it is you may have been exposed to HIV
- your understanding of HIV, how it is transmitted and how to protect yourself
- the support available to you after your result
- the “window period” of the test you are taking and if you need to be retested
3 Facts About Testing
Fact: It takes time for HIV to be detected in the body.
Most people who’ve been exposed to HIV will test HIV positive within six weeks of exposure, but a small percentage of people take up to three months.
Fact: You’re highly infectious during the ‘window period’.
That’s the time between HIV infection and the production of antibodies. A lot of HIV transmission occurs because gay men don’t know that they have HIV and are in the window period.
Fact: Your HIV test results are confidential.
If you’re worried about the confidentiality of your results, you should know that all HIV testing (in private GP and public clinics) is governed by privacy law. Talk with your GP or clinic about any privacy concerns when testing. At some clinics you don’t need a Medicare Card and in some cases you don’t even have to give your real name if you don’t want to.
An Antigen Test: What Is It?
An antigen test will detect HIV infection at an earlier stage than an HIV antibody test. It tests for quantities of a protein known as p24 antigen, which is part of the HIV virus and produced in high amounts soon after contracting HIV. In Australia, most labs currently test for both HIV antibodies and p24 antigen.
A Rapid HIV Test: What Is It?
You may have heard about rapid HIV tests. They are most often done ‘at the point of care’ (in the clinic), where you can usually receive your results within 30 minutes. A ‘reactive’ (or preliminary positive) result on a rapid HIV test is not a diagnosis of HIV infection as rapid HIV tests produce a small number of false positive results. For this reason, a reactive rapid HIV test result always needs to be confirmed by laboratory tests.
Rapid HIV tests are available in specific locations in NSW, Queensland and Victoria. This site provides information on the availability of rapid HIV testing or contact your local AIDS council. Information on Rapid Testing and other HIV and STI testing is also available at the where to get tested section of this site.
Home Testing: Is It On The Horizon?
Home HIV tests are rapid HIV tests that can be self-administered anywhere. These tests are not currently available in Australia.
Self-administered tests present some challenges in terms of accurately reading results, the possibility of incorrect HIV-positive results, and ensuring you can connect with care and support. If you choose to access such tests, we recommend you take great care with their use and confirm results through a professional service.