Everything you need to know about HIV testing

Don’t be afraid: know your status. Read this so you’re prepared for the test.

24 June 2015
by Stefan de Clerk

South Africa has the highest prevalence of HIV/AIDS in the world with over six million South Africans living with the disease, and, according to Dr Thembisile Xulu from Right to Care, HIV testing is crucial in combatting the spread of the disease. “Knowing one’s HIV status is important not only to protect oneself but to also protect others. The effectiveness of HIV prevention initiatives lies in all of us actually knowing our HIV status,” says Dr Xulu.

When should you get tested?

Getting tested for HIV should be part of your regular health check-up, and if you’re sexually active it’s recommended that you get tested at least once a year.

There are certain things that put you at a higher risk of contracting HIV, such as unprotected sex, sharing of needles, or being on medication that treats certain conditions such as hepatitis and tuberculosis. All of these require more regular testing.

What types of tests are there?

Tests for antibodies:
The most common HIV test is the rapid test. These tests detect antibodies that the immune system produces against the virus. These tests are quick and cheap, and results are available within 30 minutes.

However, because it usually takes about three months for antibodies to develop, the antibody test may not be accurate if taken within 12 weeks of potentially being exposed to the disease, and it’s recommended that you wait three months before getting tested.

This test is available at Clicks Clinics.

Tests for the HIV virus:
The other test is called an RNA test, which can detect the HIV virus itself. In contrast to the antibody test, an RNA test can detect the virus within nine to 11 days after exposure. While these tests are quicker to detect the virus, they are expensive, and thus not usually offered at clinics, or pharmacies as standard HIV tests.

What does a negative result mean?

A negative result usually means that you don’t have the HIV virus. However, a negative test may not always be accurate, especially if you’ve taken an antibody test within the three-month window period. If you’re unsure, schedule a follow-up test to verify the results. It’s important to take this opportunity to think about behaviour that might put you at risk of contracting HIV.

What does a positive result mean?

If your result is positive, it’s important not to panic. These days HIV is manageable, and many who are HIV-positive live normal, healthy, and productive lives. Because HIV doesn’t necessarily show symptoms right away, it’s still recommended that you go see a doctor who understands how to treat HIV, in order to start your treatment as soon as possible.

While HIV is manageable, it’s still a serious disease, and it’s important to build a support structure of friends and family who can support you with the physical and emotional challenges that lie ahead. Also, make sure you adapt your sexual practices and behaviours to ensure you don’t pass the virus on to your partner(s).

How Clicks Clinics can help you

Did you know Clicks offers HIV testing and counselling at their clinics? To make an appointment at a Clicks Clinic, call 0860 254 257 or book online at Clicks Clinics online

HIV home test kits are also available for purchase in-store.

IMAGE CREDIT: 123rf.com

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Read More: HIV/AIDS Super Section