World AIDS Day 2021: The ABC of HIV tests and screening

Published on: 1 December 2021, 11:42 am IST
If you find yourself exposed to HIV/AIDS, testing is the first step you can take to calm your nerves. An expert tells you all about screening and testing for the condition.
Sameer Bhati
Don’t be scared, and get yourself tested. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
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HIV testing, also known as HIV screening, is a way to confirm if you have the virus inside your body. There are a few types of tests that check or test your blood or another body fluids to see whether your body is carrying the infection or not. Most of these tests can’t confirm HIV in one go because it may take time for the body to make antibodies or for enough of that virus to grow inside you.

It is very common to have a feeling of nervousness or worry to get an HIV test, but going for one is the best thing you can do for your own health. The HIV screening is a quick, painless and confidential process.

Bold reaction needs to be taken so as to prepare for future pandemic . Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Importance of HIV testing

It is very important to get tested for HIV so that if you have the virus in your body, you can start with the treatment right away in order to feel better and live a long, healthy life. You will also be able to take steps so that you don’t pass it to anyone else. Pregnant women should also get tested so that early treatment would ensure that they don’t pass the infection to their babies.

HIV testing types

1. HIV Antibody Test, also called the Third Generation Antibody Test

  • What do they test for: HIV Antibodies
  • When can HIV be detected: Three months after exposure
  • How long does it take to get the results: Between a few days and a few weeks
  • Reliability: High

2. Combined Antigen/Antibody Test, also called Fourth Generation Antibody Test

  • What do they test for: HIV Antibodies and p24 viral proteins (antigens)
  • When can HIV be detected: One month after exposure
  • How long does it take to get the results: Between a few days and a few weeks
  • Reliability: High

3. Rapid Tests

  • What do they test for: HIV Antibodies
  • When can HIV be detected: Three months after exposure
  • How long does it take to get the results: Within 20 minutes
  • Reliability: Satisfactory for uncomplicated infection

4. In-Home Test Kits

  • What do they test for: HIV Antibodies
  • When can HIV be detected: Three months after exposure
  • How long does it take to get the results: Within 20 minutes
  • Reliability: Satisfactory, but results must be followed up at a healthcare clinic

What happens when you go for a HIV test?

Normally, when you go for a test, a small sample of blood from your finger or arm or an oral swab will be collected. In an oral swab, a testing pen is rubbed along your gums to collect cells from your mouth. Remember, HIV treatments these days are very effective and people with HIV can live long and healthy lives just like the ones without it.

Depression is a common mental health disorder associated with AIDS. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

HIV test results

Some HIV tests are anonymous, and that means they do not have your name tied to the result. Some other HIV tests are confidential in which your details are attached to the results but they are protect by privacy laws.

Positive test results

A positive HIV test results means that there are traces of the virus inside your body. If you got a rapid antigen test done, get a standard lab test to confirm it. If you have got a lab test done, get some more detailed tests of your blood to confirm the diagnosis:

Also, watch:

  • Western blot or indirect immunofluorescence assay
  • Antibody differentiation, between HIV-1 and HIV-2
  • Remember, a positive HIV tests result doesn’t mean that you have AIDS.

Negative test result

If your test result comes out to be negative, you can take precautionary steps to prevent HIV. They include:

  • Practicing safe sex
  • Taking prescribed medications

Sameer Bhati

Sameer Bhati is the director of Star Imaging & Path Lab Pvt Ltd., Staredu Education & Training Institute, and Janta X-Ray Clinic Pvt. Ltd. He heads Research & Development at Star Education and Training Institute and is Chief Controller of Medical Education as well.

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