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Getting Tested for HIV after possible Infection

If a person has engaged in anonymous high-risk sexual behaviour, i.e. unprotected penetrative vaginal or anal sex, or have had unprotected sex with multiple partners, it is advisable to get tested for HIV and possibly, other STIs (sexually-transmitted infections). This is because it is very often difficult to tell whether one’s sexual partner is HIV+ or not, since most carriers do not exhibit any physical signs or symptoms of the infection.

Timing of Test and the Window Period:
The first issue to consider is the timing to take the test. After exposure to the high-risk sexual activity, even if there is transmission of the HIV virus, the body may not develop sufficient antibodies to be detected through a test. The timing needed for the antibodies to develop is known as the ‘window period’. It varies between individuals and generally lasts between one – three months.

As such, it is advisable to go for a HIV test only after at least one month from the date of the high-risk behaviour. If the result of the first test is negative, a follow-up test in the third month after exposure should provide the person with a conclusive result of his/her HIV status.

Rapid Tests:
Most people opt for a rapid oral or blood test, where the results are made known within 30 minutes. The oral test involves using a swab to rub along the linings of the gum to extract some tissue samples. The blood test involves a quick prick of the finger to get a small drop of blood. The oral or blood sample is then tested against the agent for presence of HIV antibodies.

Rapid tests are accurate for HIV- results, but may produce false positives. In this situation, a full blood test known as the Western Blot will be carried out to ascertain the HIV status. The time needed for the laboratory testing is about one to two weeks.

Anonymous Testing:
Due to the sensitivity of the issue and the implications of a positive test result, some places offer anonymous testing, where personal particulars are not recorded. A check with your local HIV/AIDS organisation will let you know whether anonymous testing is available, as well as the location and operating hours.

Of course, one can still opt to have the HIV test done in any public or private clinic or hospital.

The most important things is that there should be pre-test counseling to let the person understand what he/she is about to undergo, as well as post-test counseling to advice the person on the necessary follow-ups and to provide moral support.