All About HIV Testing

A practical guide to everything about testing for HIV and STIs

These days, thanks to advances in technology, there are more ways than ever to get tested for HIV.

Here is all you need to know about the different types of HIV tests available and some considerations you should consider.

5 Facts About Testing

  1. It takes time for HIV to be detected in the body
    Most people who’ve been exposed to HIV will test positive within one month after exposure, but a small number of people take up to three months.
  2. 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 guys don’t know that they have HIV developing in the window period.
  3. Testing negative after three months is a good sign
    A negative test three months after an initial test will almost always mean a person does not have HIV, given there’s been no risk of HIV transmission in the meantime.
  4. Your HIV test results are confidential
    If you’re worried about the confidentiality of your results, you should know that all testing in private GPs and public clinics is governed by Privacy Law. Talk with your GP or clinic about this 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.
  5. HIV and STI testing is available free of charge at many sexual health clinics
    In many cases, HIV testing is free, and you don’t need a Medicare card. You can find your nearest testing site in NSW here.

What HIV Tests Are Available?

Rapid HIV Test

A rapid HIV test involves drawing a small amount of blood, generally via a finger prick, with a result usually available within 30 minutes.

There are three possible results: negative, reactive, and invalid. These results are only preliminary, and blood will still need to be collected from your arm and sent to a laboratory to confirm them.

  • Negative – HIV antibodies were not detected in the sample. It’s important to note that people within the HIV window period might also receive a negative result.
  • Reactive – HIV antibodies were detected in the sample, but this result needs to be confirmed with laboratory-based blood testing.
  • Invalid – In the unlikely case that the test shows an invalid response, it simply means something went wrong with the test itself. This result is not an indication of the person’s HIV status, and they would be offered a repeat rapid HIV test.

Rapid HIV testing is available at many locations in NSW, or if you are in Sydney, you can also visit a[TEST].

HIV Antibody Test

The HIV antibody test is the most common test gay men will have during a sexual health check.

If you have contracted HIV, your immune system will start producing antibodies reacting to the virus within 2-12 weeks following exposure. This test detects these antibodies, and if you test positive, a follow-up test will be done to confirm the result.

Antigen Test

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 the p24 antigen, which is part of the HIV virus and produced in high amounts early on after contracting HIV. Most labs in Australia currently test for HIV antibodies and the p24 antigen.

Dried Blood Spot (DBS) Test

A DBS test is a free, accurate and convenient way to test for HIV in the comfort and privacy of your home.

It involves collecting a few drops of blood from your finger and allowing the blood to dry on a test card. You then send the card away to get tested and wait around a week to get the result back. DBS is no longer a preferred method of testing in NSW thanks to advances in self-testing kits.

HIV Self-Test (HST)

An HIV self-test is a finger-prick blood test that you can perform on yourself, at home or elsewhere, and receive results in 15 minutes. The testing kit comes as an easy-to-use device with directions. Australia only has one test approved for sale, which you can find online, in-store at pharmacies, or in vending machines (at selected locations around NSW).

You can now order up to a year’s supply (one every three months) of HIV self-tests for free through so long as you live in Australia and are over the age of 18.

Find free HIV self-test kits in vending machines across several locations throughout NSW through the MyTest service. HIV self-test kits are available to anyone, so long as they’re above 18, and you can access them by visiting one of the vending machines, scanning the QR code, and following the instructions.

For more detailed information on approved HIV self-testing in Australia, visit the AFAO website.

HIV self-testing devices work by detecting HIV antibodies, which the immune system produces anywhere between two weeks to three months after exposure to the virus. Because of this window period, HIV self-testing devices may not provide a conclusive result until up to three months after a risk of exposure.

As these devices are screening tests, the possible results are ‘reactive’, ‘negative’ (non-reactive), or ‘invalid’. Any reactive result needs to be confirmed by a blood test conducted by a healthcare professional.

Window Period

It takes time for HIV to be detected in the body. Most people who’ve been exposed to HIV will test positive within one month after exposure, but some may take up to three months. This period is known as ‘the window period’.

The window period is the time between HIV infection and the production of antibodies; a lot of HIV transmission occurs because guys don’t know that they have HIV developing in the window period. So, if you test negative three months after your potential exposure to HIV, it will almost always mean you do not have HIV, so long as there has been no other risk of transmission in the meantime.

Read more about the HIV window period here.

Pre-test discussion checklist

If you are testing at a GP or a sexual health clinic (i.e. getting a rapid HIV test, antibody test or antigen test), you’ll have a few minutes to chat with your healthcare provider about the following:

  • What the test means and the implications of a positive or negative result
  • Your sexual activity since your last test to gauge how likely it is that 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

Some clinics provide an express service where you enter some of this information directly on a computer before seeing the nurse, which cuts down on the length of the discussion, meaning you get out of there quicker!

Need to talk?

If you’ve had a recent risk event, you can take PEP to prevent infection, but only if it’s taken within 72 hours after exposure to HIV. Call the PEP Hotline at 1800 737 669.

If you want to talk to someone about a positive or reactive result, call:


Phone: (02) 9206 2000
Free Call: 1800 063 060

HIV Diagnosis Priority Service is available Monday to Friday.

When you call, inform them that you’re newly diagnosed and ask to speak with a counsellor or health promotion officer. You’ll get a call back within one working day of your initial call.

NSW Sexual Health Infolink

Free Call: 1800 451 624

This service is available Monday to Friday, 9:00 AM to 5:30 PM.


Free Call: 13 11 14

If you want to talk to someone outside business hours, Lifeline’s Crisis Counselling Service is available 24 hours a day.