HIV and AIDS - Diagnosis 

HIV testing 

Emergency HIV pills

If you think you have been exposed to the virus within the last 72 hours (three days), anti-HIV medication, called PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis), may stop you becoming infected.

Some people living with HIV have no signs and symptoms for many years.

People who have recently been infected with HIV often experience a short, flu-like illness two to six weeks after infection. Symptoms include fever, sore throat, and body rash. See symptoms of HIV for more information.

You can only be certain you have HIV if you have an HIV test.

If you think you might be at risk, you should seek medical advice immediately. The earlier HIV is detected, the more likely it is that treatment will be successful.

If you do have HIV, delaying treatment will allow the virus to spread in your system and damage your health.

The sooner you get tested, the sooner you can start life-saving treatment and avoid spreading the virus to someone else.

HIV testing is available on the NHS free of charge to anyone. Some clinics can provide test results on the same day the test is taken.

HIV tests

The most common form of HIV test is a blood test, in which a small amount of blood is taken and examined in a laboratory. These tests can provide a reliable result four weeks after exposure to HIV.

It is now also possible to test for HIV through saliva. In this test, a sample of saliva is taken using a mouth swab. Dried blood spot tests are also available, in which the finger is pricked and a spot of blood is blotted onto filter paper. However, it can take up to three months after you have been infected with HIV for the virus to show up in saliva and blood spot tests.

If the test finds no signs of infection, then your test result is “negative”. If the HIV virus has been found in your blood then the test result is “positive”.

Before someone is given a positive result the blood is tested several times to be completely sure.

If you test positive for HIV, you will undergo a number of tests to monitor the progress of the infection to work out when HIV treatment should be started.

Find out more about treating HIV.

Where to get tested

There are various places to go for an HIV blood test, such as:

  • sexual health clinics, also called genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinics 
  • clinics run by charities such as the Terrence Higgins Trust 
  • some GP surgeries
  • some contraception and young people’s clinics
  • local drugs agencies
  • at an antenatal clinic, if you are pregnant
  • a private clinic, where you will have to pay

Home testing kits are also available, which allow you to take a saliva sample or blood spot and send them off to a laboratory for testing. These are available online and from some pharmacies, but you will generally have to pay for them.

From early 2014, it will also be possible to buy self-testing kits that will allow you to test yourself and find out the results immediately. It is important to check that any test you buy has a CE quality assurance mark and is licensed for sale in the UK, as poor quality HIV self-tests are currently available from overseas.

It is your choice where you would be most comfortable having the test.

Find your local sexual health services.


Page last reviewed: 28/08/2012

Next review due: 28/08/2014


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The 1 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

hulmeboy said on 09 January 2011

Comprehensive, but should be titled HIV TESTING rather than DIAGNOSIS .... this would make it more user-friendly I think ?

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