How To Test For HIV

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a life-threatening disease that essentially requires immediate treatment. HIV testing, also called HIV screening, involves the collection of body fluid samples from the individual being tested, and checking for traces of HIV in the fluid sample. The test is done to reveal the viral load and the current stage of HIV infection.  

The virus may take time to grow and develop, and the body takes time to produce antibodies to fight HIV infection. It might take several days to obtain the test results, as the screening tests take some days to indicate the presence of HIV antigens and antibodies in the collected sample and to confirm the viral load.      

Once the viral load is detected, the treatment and diagnosis will begin. The treatment for HIV is known as antiretroviral treatment (ART). When ART begins at the right time will prevent the progression of the viral load and reduce the damage to the immune system. It will also lower the risk of transmission to their partner to a great extent.     

Why is an HIV test necessary? 

If HIV is left untreated, the person may not be able to survive for long. According to the National Institutes of Health, without antiretroviral treatment (ART), the life expectancy of an HIV-positive individual will be around 8 to 10 years after the first stage of HIV. The viral load in the blood may increase soon after the person acquires the virus through exposure to the HIV pathogen.   

It might take some time for the virus to become active in the blood. Once it starts growing and multiplying, the immune system responds by producing antibodies to fight the virus and prevent health damage. The immune system’s response causes the person to develop flu-like symptoms, such as fever, sore throat, headache, diarrhea, muscle ache, body pain, rash, dizziness, and nausea.

Early Stages Of HIV

The flu-like symptoms occur during the early stages of HIV and are known as acute retroviral syndrome. These symptoms are the body’s natural response to the intrusion of the virus. Once this initial stage passes, the infection enters the second stage, which is called chronic HIV infection. In this stage, the rapid multiplication of viruses takes place. The person remains asymptomatic throughout this stage. 

If the person gets tested for HIV, they will be able to get the treatment on time, which will help them to prevent the risk and add many years to their life. Remember, the sooner will be the treatment, the better it will be for the health. With timely ART, their partner will also be able to remain safe from the infection. The possibility of spreading the infection to others will be low while getting the treatment. This is why one must get tested for HIV.  

Types of tests done for HIV  

Generally, the healthcare provider will perform the following tests for diagnosing HIV:   

  • HIV blood test for antibody detection

The healthcare provider will collect the blood sample from your vein and send it to the lab to check whether your body has released antibodies in response to the virus. Antibodies are proteins that are released by your immune system to efficiently fight the virus and prevent it from spreading. It might take several days, like up to 90 days for the antibodies to get detected in the blood sample.

Rapid HIV blood tests for antibody detection can also be done by taking blood from the fingertip. A drop of blood is enough to determine the results. The blood can be collected from the tip of your finger by pricking it. It might take between 18 to 90 days for the antibodies to get detected in the blood sample. The blood drop sample can be collected by the healthcare provider, or you can get it at home and send it to the lab for antibody detection.    

  • Antibody/Antigen test

Antigens are the substances in the blood that cause the release of antibodies. Antigens get released before antibodies. Once the presence of antigens is sensed by the immune system, it releases antibodies to attack those and fight off the infectious pathogen. The blood sample can be collected by drawing blood from the vein or using a rapid fingertip blood collection technique. The tests result might take between 18 to 90 days.  

  • Nucleic acid test (NAT)

This type of test can help you in obtaining results sooner than the other types. The test involves a blood sample, to be drawn from a vein. The collected blood sample is then sent to the lab for performing tests. The test can directly reveal the HIV viral load.    

  • Oral test

This is a type of rapid test that requires a swab of the area between the teeth and gum, which obtains the oral fluid. The oral is different from the saliva. This test can reveal the presence of antibodies. It might reveal exact results during the early stages of HIV. However, if it has been a while since the person had HIV, then this test will obtain accurate results.   

  • Urine test

This one is the least accurate test when compared to other types. It helps detect the antibodies in the urine. Urine tests may take between 18 to 90 days to reveal the result. 

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