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 diagnosed, the earlier you can start treatment and avoid becoming ill.
If you do have HIV, delaying diagnosis will allow the virus to cause more damage to your immune system and your health.
The sooner you get tested, the sooner you can start treatment and avoid passing the virus to someone else.
HIV testing is available on the NHS free of charge to anyone. Many clinics can provide test results on the same day the test is taken.
The most common form of HIV test is a blood test, in which a small amount of blood is taken and tested in a laboratory, the result is usually available within a few days, sometimes on the same day. These tests can provide a reliable result four weeks after exposure to HIV.
It is also possible to test for HIV using "point of care test kits" which test a sample of saliva taken from the mouth or a spot of blood taken from pricking a finger with a needle. The result is available within a few minutes, in the clinic. However, it can take up to several week longer after you have been infected with HIV for the virus to show up in saliva and blood spot tests. If you are concerned you may have been infected with HIV within the past few weeks then it's best to have the full blood test for HIV.
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”.
If a point of care HIV test kit is used, then a positive result will need to be confirmed using a full blood test. All positive test results should be confirmed with another blood test.
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
You may be offered a test if you see your GP, are admitted to hospital or attend an outpatient clinic with a condition that could be related to HIV.
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.