HIV tests: how HIV tests work

At AllLife, we understand that taking an HIV test 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 taking an HIV test 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. Once you receive your HIV 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 means that just over 20% of the South African population are HIV-positive. It’s important to know your HIV status, how to get 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. Scientists are working on an HIV vaccine, and serious medical advancements have enabled people to live long, healthy and happy lives 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.

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.


How a Home HIV Test Works:


Home HIV test kits have become easily accessible in South Africa. Some home HIV test kits use a swab from within your mouth, and others use a drop of blood, to test your HIV antibody level. Usually, the results of a home HIV test kit are available within minutes. If you should receive a positive HIV test result, it is recommended that you book an appointment with your doctor so that you can:

  • Confirm the home HIV test kit result.
  • Check on your medical history and general health.
  • Start anti-retroviral treatment, once your HIV-positive status is confirmed.


Now that you know your HIV status, it’s time to start thinking about your future. AllLife can help. 

Understand more about HIV and how to live a happy, healthy life when you are HIV-positive. 

Leave your details below to get more lifestyle tips, updates on medical research, and other resources to help you and your family live a healthy happy life in the presence of HIV.

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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.

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