Family Planning

What You Need to Know about HIV Testing

The reality is that many people don’t get tested for HIV because they are afraid of testing positive; please don’t let this stop you from knowing your status. HIV is preventable and controllable – you will still be able to have an excellent quality of life. Early detection means that you can receive early treatment and better outcomes.  In this article, we explain the different methods of HIV testing.

HIV testing methods

All HIV tests look for antibodies which are proteins created by the immune system. If viruses, bacteria, chemicals and allergens are detected, they mark the attacking cells so that they can be destroyed by the immune system’s ‘warriors’: T-cells or CD4+ cells.

The issue that is faced is that HIV directly attacks the T-cells and unfortunately, the immune system weakens. The loss of T-cells makes individuals with HIV ill; as it deteriorates, the immune system struggles to fight off other viruses and infections. It’s crucial that you are tested for HIV.

Please read about the three different types of HIV tests that are available.

HIV Antibody/Antigen Test

The test detects the presence of HIV antibodies (which, as mentioned earlier, are created by the immune system) and the HIV antigens (intruders) in your blood. If the antibodies exist, it means that you have contracted HIV.

The test window after possible exposure is 2 – 6 weeks. Although, the ideal amount of time needed to get an accurate result is 3 – 12 weeks because there will be enough HIV antigens in your blood to identify the presence of the virus.

Rapid HIV tests

There are numerous rapid HIV tests available. The most common is called the ‘finger-prick’ test –  a small amount of blood is taken from your finger. The benefit of the test is that the results are available in 20 minutes, so you’ll know your status HIV quickly.

There is a disadvantage: The test is only accurate after three months of exposure to the virus. The tests are  reliable, but there is a risk it may give a ‘false positive’ result which means that it shows that you have HIV when you don’t actually have the virus. To combat the possible inaccuracy, it may be best to have the HIV antibody/antigen test ensure you get the correct result.

The test window after potential exposure: Only after three months.

HIV home-test kits

South Africa is one of the countries that sell HIV self-test kits which allows you to perform the test in the privacy of your own home. It’s imperative that you follow the instructions carefully; the result is typically available within 20 minutes, and you can confirm the result by having the HIV antibody/antigen test.

The test window after potential exposure: Only after 3 months.

Source: Marie Stopes South Africa (Safe Abortion and Post Abortion Family Planning)

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