How is HIV/AIDS diagnosed?

HIV/AIDS is diagnosed through the analysis of body fluid samples. Over recent years, testing has become more efficient, with some tests taking just a few minutes from sample to result.

Who should get tested?

If you’re sexually active you should get tested at least once a year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the US recommends that those who fall into the following categories should get tested for HIV:

  • Injecting drug users
  • Those who have engaged in unprotected vaginal, anal, or oral sex with men who have sex with men (MSM), multiple partners, or anonymous partners
  • Anyone who has exchanged sex for drugs or money
  • Those diagnosed with or treated for hepatitis, tuberculosis (TB), or a sexually transmitted infection (STI)
  • Anyone who has had unprotected sex with someone who fits any of the above criteria.

Generally, it’s recommended that you wait three months after possible exposure before being tested for HIV. Although HIV antibody tests are very sensitive, there is a ‘window period’ of three to 12 weeks, which is the period between infection with HIV and the appearance of detectable antibodies to the virus, explains the AIDS Foundation of South Africa.

Knowing your HIV status has two vital benefits, says the AIDS Foundation of South Africa: Firstly, if you are HIV-positive, you can take necessary steps before symptoms appear to access treatment, care and support services, potentially prolonging your life for many years. Secondly, if you know you’re infected, you can take all the necessary precautions to prevent the spread of HIV to others.

Rest assured that the results of your HIV test are absolutely confidential.

The different kinds of HIV tests

1. Antibody test

This test looks for HIV antibodies produced by your body, rather than for the HIV itself. It uses blood samples, oral fluid or urine to find these antibodies.

Two versions of this test exist:

  • Enzyme immunoassay (EIA): The sample is sent away to a laboratory for analysis and typically takes two weeks.
  • Rapid HIV antibody test: The sample should be available within a few minutes.

This test is available at Clicks Clinics: For an appointment, call 0860 254 257 or visit Clicks Pharmacies and Clinics online

2. Western blot test

If your antibody test indicates a high level of HIV antibodies, your doctor will require you to have a follow-up test called a Western blot test. This test is done to rule out the possibility of a false positive that may have occurred during the first test.

3. Antigen test

Although not as common as the antibody tests, the antigen tests are able to diagnose early infection more accurately via a blood sample. This test looks for a HIV protein known as p24. This protein tends to be most visible in the early stages of infection, or one to three weeks after infection.

4. PCR test

The polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test is most commonly used on babies born to HIV-positive mothers because their blood tends to contain their mother’s antibodies for several weeks after birth, rendering the antibody test inconclusive.

The PCR test is able to detect the genetic chain that makes up the virus itself which it can identify at about two to three weeks after infection.

Where you can get tested

There are many options to choose from including:

  • Local clinics
  • Clicks Clinics: For an appointment, call 0860 254 257 or visit Clicks Pharmacies and Clinics online
  • Your doctor’s office
  • A local health department
  • Hospitals
  • Family planning clinics
  • Sites specifically set up for HIV testing

Even if you test negative for HIV…

If you test negative, ensure you stay that way by avoiding unsafe behaviour. Also keep in mind that you could still be infected, since it can take up to three months for your immune system to produce enough antibodies to show HIV infection in a blood test, reports the AIDS Foundation of South Africa.

Get retested at a later date and take appropriate precautions in the meantime. During this ‘window period’, a person is highly infectious, and should therefore take measures to prevent any possible transmission, warns the AIDS Foundation of South Africa.

How Clicks Clinics can help you

Are you worried that you may have contracted HIV? Clicks Clinics offers HIV testing and counselling.

To make an appointment at a Clicks Clinic, call 0860 254 257 or visit Clicks Pharmacies and Clinics online

Read More: HIV/AIDS Super Section