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What Is an HIV Test?

An HIV test is a test that can detect antibodies in your body to determine if you have been exposed to HIV. 99% of people who have been exposed to HIV develop antibodies that are detectable within six weeks.

Sexually active people should get an HIV test once per year or more often if they have a new partner or engage in high-risk behavior. There are three types of HIV tests. These include:

  1. Antibody test: When the virus first enters the body, the body’s immune system gets activated and produces specific antibodies. This HIV test checks for these specific antibodies. However, keep in mind that this test will not catch early infections but will pick up on the antibodies approximately two to eight weeks later. The test results are quite accurate though, making it the most common test used for HIV. You can either do a finger-prick test or send your blood samples to a laboratory.
  2. Antigen/antibody test: This test detects both HIV antibodies and HIV antigens in an individual’s blood. This test is also called the fourth generation test and it tests for a protein called p24. This protein is produced two to three weeks after infection and can only be detected within the next two months after being infected. This test is recommended within four weeks after exposure. If done in time, this test will detect over 95% of infections.
  3. Nucleic Acid Test (NAT): The nucleic acid test looks for HIV in the blood. This type of test is quite expensive and is only recommended for people who have had high-risk exposure. This test differs from the other two because it detects generic materials instead of antigens or antibodies.

HIV tests are available at hospitals, clinics, and community health care centers. You can also order a testing kit online or buy it from a pharmacy. There is only one in-home HIV test approved by the FDA and that is the one which should be used for accurate results.

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