Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) test

What the test detects

The test detects HIV antibodies. These are proteins made by the immune system after infection by HIV. Once a person has been infected with HIV, the antibodies can be found in their blood for the rest of their life.

When to be tested

It may take three months for antibodies to develop after HIV first enters the body. If you want to know if you were infected from a particular incident, you should have a test at least three months later.

Before three months, the test may give a negative result, even though HIV is present.

The test

To test if you have any HIV antibodies, a sample of blood is taken from a vein in your arm..

Preparing for the results

After listening to your history, your doctor will advise you about your risk of having HIV. If there is some risk of a positive result, you might choose to prepare yourself for it by:

  • returning to the clinic for your results on a day when you don’t have other work, educational or social commitments
  • discussing the test and the forthcoming results with someone you trust
  • planning what to do if the result is positive, deciding where to go and who to tell
  • remembering that HIV is now a treatable long-term condition, and there are many support services for people living with HIV.

If the test result is negative

This means HIV antibodies were not detected in your blood because:

  • you have not been infected with HIV or
  • you have been infected recently and have not yet made antibodies to HIV.

You should discuss the result with your doctor or health adviser to work out which possibility applies to you.

The test may need to be repeated if you are still in the window period. It is especially important to have a further test three months after you are diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection (for example gonorrhoea), in case you were exposed to HIV at the time you contracted the infection.

If the test result is positive

This means you have been infected with HIV, and the virus will probably remain in your system for life.

All people who are HIV positive can infect others:

  • during unsafe sex
  • when sharing needles and syringes
  • by blood transfusion (in Australia, blood has been tested for HIV since 1985)
  • infected women can pass the virus to their babies at birth and by breast milk.

In South Australia there is a legal obligation for a person infected with HIV to take all reasonable precautions to prevent transmission to others.

HIV is not spread by coughing, sneezing, sharing eating utensils, shaking hands, hugging or kissing.

People with HIV can stay healthy for many years. Regular medical check-ups and drug treatments can reduce the activity of HIV and prevent many AIDS-associated illnesses. In South Australia, the death rate due to AIDS continues to fall due to advances in treatment.

For more information

For more information on HIV testing, contact Adelaide Sexual Health Centre.