When to get tested for HIV
Reviewed by our clinical team
If you think you’ve been exposed to HIV, it’s important to seek medical advice as soon as possible.
Exposure usually happens through unprotected vaginal or anal sex e.g. sex without a condom, or sex where the condom has broken. It can also happen during oral sex. You might also be exposed to HIV by sharing needles or other injecting equipment.
Within the first 72 hours of exposure, it’s possible to prevent infection by taking post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP). This is available from sexual health and GUM clinics, as well as hospital A&E departments, although it’s normally only prescribed to people who are considered high risk.
If more than 72 hours have passed since you were exposed, it’s still important to get medical advice. You’ll need to get an HIV test and, if it comes back positive, start treatment as soon as possible.
HIV tests are available from a number of different services, including:
- Sexual health and GUM clinics
- Terrence Higgins Trust clinics
- Some GP surgeries
- Some contraception clinics
- LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor
Even if you don’t think you’ve been exposed to HIV, it’s still a good idea to get a test for HIV and other STIs once a year, or whenever you start having sex with a new partner. For men who have sex with men, getting tested every three to six months is recommended.
How soon can HIV be detected by a test?
Most modern HIV tests are fourth or fifth generation tests, and can detect the virus in your blood from as early as four weeks after possible exposure. In other words: it takes 28 days before it shows up on the blood test.
Other types of test require more time to have passed. Rapid tests and self-test kits may not be able to detect HIV in your sample until three months after exposure.
Should I wait to take an HIV test?
If you think you’ve been exposed to HIV, seek medical advice as soon as you can. The doctor or nurse you speak to will be able to advise you about when and how to get tested, so it won’t have to be a decision you make on your own.
In some cases, it might be appropriate to get tested more than once. You may be advised to take an early test, and then a second test a few weeks or months later. An early test may show a positive or a negative result, and require confirmation from a second.
How soon will get the result?
Some types of HIV test give a result very quickly. Services that offer rapid testing will take a blood sample using a finger-prick test – this will give a result within minutes. The same goes for self-testing kits. With other types of test that require the sample to be sent to a lab, the results may take a few days.
What should I do while I’m waiting to get tested?
If there’s a chance that you have HIV, you have to be very careful about not passing it on, as you’re more likely to be infectious during this early period. While you’re waiting to take a test, you should make sure you’re using condoms during sex.
How long does it take for HIV symptoms to show?
A short, flu-like illness is usually the only symptom of HIV, two to six weeks after infection. About 80% of people with HIV experience this. If you’re having these symptoms, and there’s a chance you could’ve been exposed to HIV in recent weeks, it’s a good idea to get tested.
The most common symptoms of this illness are:
- Sore throat
Other symptoms include aches and pains, swollen glands, and feeling very tired. After these symptoms pass it’s possible to go years without experiencing any symptoms.
Order an at home HIV test from Online Doctor
If you think you may have been exposed to HIV, you can order an at home HIV test kit from LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor. We use a fifth-generation test that can detect HIV in your blood sample from four weeks – although it may sometimes pick up the virus earlier than this.
To use our HIV test, you’ll need to order one through our secure online clinic, and be approved by one of our doctors. We’ll send you a kit with a finger prick device that lets you take a small blood sample. Post the sample back to us in a prepaid envelope and we’ll provide results confidentially within three days.