HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. Once someone has been infected with HIV it will remain in the body for life. There is no cure but there are now treatments which keep the virus under control and allow people to remain well with near normal life expectancy. For more info on HIV go to the HIV Aware website.
The only way to tell if someone has HIV is to have a test. There often no signs or symptoms of infection. If either you or your partner are worried that you might have been in contact with someone with HIV ask for a test.
An HIV test checks for antibodies in the blood to HIV. These are produced by the body when it comes into contact with the virus. It can take a few weeks for these to appear in the blood. The test can be done by the following:
Finger prick test: This is often called a rapid or point of care test. A small sample of blood is obtained from a finger ( just like a blood sugar check). This is then places on a special strip which takes between 5-20 minutes to complete depending on the test. The result is either given as reactive or non reactive. A reactive test would then be confirmed by doing a blood test.
Blood test: This is a test taken from your arm and sent to the laboratory for testing. It can take between 2-7 days for the result. This is more accurate than the finger prick test.
Oral swab: it is also possible to do a test from a mouth swab. This is a rapid point of care test like the finger prick test. It is less accurate than the blood test. There have been some problems recently with sourcing these.
Blood spot: In some situations it can be tested from a finger prick test where a drop of blood in placed on a piece of special paper which is then sent to a lab for testing
If you think that you have HIV please go for a test as soon as possible. You don’t have to have any signs of HIV to have a test. It can take up to 12 weeks after coming into contact with HIV for the virus to show in the blood. This is called ‘the window period’. With the newer tests this period can be reduced to 4-6 weeks. It is still possible to pass on HIV in the window period. If your initial test is negative you may be advised to have a further test a few weeks later just to make sure.
Negative test: This means that no antibodies have been detected in your blood. If you have had a risk within the previous 3 months you would be advised to have a further test a few weeks later.
Positive/reactive test: This means that antibodies have been detected in your blood. A second test is always taken to confirm the initial positive/reactive test. If both test are positive this confirms that you have HIV.
A rapid POCT test can give an idea within 5-20 minutes. A blood test sent to lab can take between 2- 7 days for the result to be available.
You can ask any health professional for a test:
- Sexual Health Clinics
- Broad St Halifax 01422 261370
- Antenatal services
- Brunswick Centre 01484 469691
- Drug and alcohol services
- Home testing
Over internet but quality may be variable. Some of these need to be paid for. Home testing possibly coming soon via Sexual Health Service
No test is 100% accurate. Tests that are done at the right time should pick up most infections. All reactive or positive tests are repeated for confirmation.
Post Exposure Prophylaxis for HIV (PEP)
There is currently no cure for HIV. PEP is a treatment that may prevent developing HIV infection after being exposed to the virus
It suppresses any HIV virus to allow the immune system to clear the virus before it becomes established.
It needs to be started as soon as possible – no later than 72 hours after possible exposure. HIV can only be passed on if your contact is HIV positive AND during penetrative sex no condom is worn, breaks or slips off. The person being penetrated is at higher risk.
You will be assessed by the clinician to work out likely risk for HIV. If you are thought to be at high risk you will be offered PEP treatment. This involves taking tablets every day for 28 days. You will be given a 7 day starter pack with arrangements made for you to be followed up at the sexual health clinic. Treatment is FREE of charge in the UK
You should have been given an appointment for the sexual health clinic within the next 7 days. There a further assessment will be done and to check to make sure that you are happy to continue with the PEP. You will be offered a sexual health screen and any vaccines for Hepatitis B that might be needed. If you are happy to continue a further 21 days treatment will be given to you.
An HIV test will be advised at 12 weeks post exposure or post completion of PEP if this is taken