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Diagnosing HIV

Seek medical advice as soon as possible if you think you might have been exposed to HIV.

You can get tested in a number of places, including at a GP surgery, sexual health clinics and clinics run by charities.

The only way to find out if you have HIV is to have an HIV test. This involves testing a sample of your blood or saliva for signs of the infection.

It’s important to be aware that:

  • emergency anti-HIV medicine called post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) may stop you becoming infected if started within 72 hours of possible exposure to the virus – it’s recommended that you start it as soon as possible, ideally within 24 hours
  • an early diagnosis means you can start treatment sooner, which can improve your chances of controlling the virus, reduce the risk of becoming more unwell and reduce the chance of passing the virus on to others

Both positive and negative HIV tests may need to be repeated 1 to 3 months after potential exposure to HIV infection (this is known as the window period), but you should not wait this long to seek help:

  • clinics may offer a finger prick blood test, which can give you a result in minutes, but it may take up to a few days to get the results of a more detailed HIV test
  • home testing or home sampling kits are available to buy online or from pharmacies – depending on the type of test you use, your result will be available in a few minutes or a few days

If your first test suggests you have HIV, a further blood test will need to be carried out to confirm the result.

If this is positive, you’ll be referred to a specialist HIV clinic for some more tests and a discussion about your treatment options.