HIV tests: how HIV tests work

At AllLife, we understand that HIV tests can cause some level of anxiety. Not all circumstances leading up to an HIV test are within your control. Read this article carefully, so you can understand what HIV tests are and how they work.

Everything you need to know about HIV tests

At AllLife, we understand that HIV tests can cause some level of anxiety. Not all circumstances leading up to an HIV test are within your control. It’s important for you to read this article carefully, so you can understand what HIV tests are and how they work. Once you receive your test results, we’ll be here to help you work through all the information one step at a time.

Getting tested for HIV

Why should you get tested for HIV?

More than 7.7 million people in South Africa have tested positive for HIV. This emphasises the need to pay serious attention to HIV. With such serious statistics, it’s critical that we educate everyone about HIV, getting tested, and how to process a positive test result.

There is no known cure for HIV as yet, however, it can be treated and managed. Science and medicine have evolved so much that you can still live a long, healthy and happy life when HIV-positive. Access to information, treatment and support is improved upon, year after year. Getting tested is not just important for you, but also for the people you love and care about. If you are HIV-positive, you can start following a few simple but important precautions. This is important as you navigate through life, to protect both yourself and the people you care about.

You can live every day confidently, no matter your HIV status.

Where can you get an HIV test?

It’s relatively easy to get tested for HIV in South Africa. You can do so at your doctor, local clinic or any public health facility. There’s also the option to buy an HIV test online or at your local pharmacy. This then allows you to test for HIV in the comfort of your own home.

How HIV testing works:

Most health facilities use something called a rapid HIV test. It’s a simple finger-prick test, that provides accurate results in as few as five minutes. Public healthcare facilities, like your local clinic, don’t charge anything for the test. Private healthcare facilities usually include HIV tests within your annual medical check-up.

A rapid HIV test enables your doctor, nurse, or clinic sister to:

  • Test for antibodies: a finger prick is used to take your blood, from which the test process can determine the presence of HIV antibodies.
  • Provide results within 5 to 30 minutes.
  • Place you on treatment: If you test positive for HIV, you’ll start treatment immediately. It’s important to start as soon as possible because it helps your body manage the effects of HIV, keeping you healthy.
  • Book a follow-up appointment: the rapid test checks for antibodies, which may not be present when you first get tested, if you were only recently infected. This is why any negative test results usually warrant a follow-up appointment for confirmation. Your body builds up antibodies over time so if you want to be 100% sure of your HIV-negative status, request a secondary test about 90 days later.

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What is a RiboNucleic Acid (RNA) HIV test?

Another type of HIV test is the RNA test. It also produces results relatively quickly, but it’s expensive. This is because the RNA test checks for the HI-Virus itself, instead of the antibodies produced by your body.

Can you test your HIV at home?

Apart from HIV itself, various other factors contribute to the anxiety of being tested. Sometimes it’s more stressful, because of cultural and social pressure, stigma, and prejudice. For this, and for ease of use, a home test kit for HIV was developed.

If you feel more comfortable testing for HIV at home, you can now buy a kit from most local pharmacies. The home HIV test kit is also a rapid test. It requires you to prick your finger to draw a drop of blood, to check for your HIV status. If you test positive for HIV at home, you can call our 24-hour HIV Helpline to talk about it and find out what to do next. It’s important to know that you are not alone.

HIV is no longer terminal and we are here to help you find your path to a normal life. Arrange to see your doctor, nurse, or clinic sister as soon as possible, to confirm your HIV test results through a follow-up test. You will also be placed onto a treatment programme immediately.

We all have questions.

Below are some of the answers to the most common questions around HIV. 

What is usually the first sign of HIV?

After becoming infected with HIV, most patients only experience moderate flu-like symptoms. Typically, the illness is sudden in onset and is characterised by fever, swelling of the lymph glands, a measles-like rash all over the body, ulcers in the mouth and sometimes on the genitalia.

What are the 4 stages of HIV?

  • Stage 1: Infection – Exposure to infected bodily fluids.
  • Stage 2: Asymptomatic – HIV quickly spreads and the patient becomes seropositive for HIV antibodies.
  • Stage 3: Symptomatic – The immune system is now engaged in a constant battle with the rapidly replicating virus.
  • Stage 4: AIDS – At this stage, the patient’s CD4+ count is 200 cells per mm3 or less.

How soon can HIV be detected by a blood test?

No test can detect HIV immediately after infection. The time between initial infection and a detectable viral load is called the window period. It can take anywhere from 2-12 weeks to after exposure, to detect whether you are HIV-positive or not, depending on which testing method is used.

How long does it take to show symptoms of HIV?

Following initial infection, there is a period of intense, unchecked viral replication that occurs. It usually takes 2 to 4 weeks after infection and can last about 1 to 2 weeks, after which there tends to be a slight recovery, and the infected individual is considered to be seropositive for HIV antibodies.

How is HIV transmitted?

HIV is transmitted from one person to another through the exchange of body fluids. The main method of transmission in South Africa is through unprotected sexual activity.

Does HIV test affect life insurance?

Being HIV-positive can affect standard life insurance policies, particularly if your status changes from HIV-negative to HIV-positive within a particular age range. That’s why AllLife covers all lives. Your HIV status doesn’t prevent you from getting cover with us.

Can HIV-positive women have children?

Yes, HIV-positive women can enjoy healthy pregnancies and give birth to healthy HIV-negative babies, through the Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) programme. PMTCT has been highly effective in reducing the HIV transmission risk to under 1%.

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