What Does A Negative Hiv Test Result Mean
A negative result doesn’t necessarily mean that you don’t have HIV. That’s because of the window periodthe time between when a person gets HIV and when a test can accurately detect it. The window period varies from person to person and is also different depending upon the type of HIV test.
Ask your health care provider about the window period for the kind of test youre taking. If youre using a home test, you can get that information from the materials included in the tests package. If you get an HIV test after a potential HIV exposure and the result is negative, get tested again after the window period for the test youre using to be sure. To learn more about the window period and when a person should get retested, see CDCs How soon after an exposure to HIV can an HIV test if I am infected?. If you get an HIV test within 3 months after a potential HIV exposure and the result is negative, get tested again in 3 more months to be sure.
If you learned you were HIV-negative the last time you were tested, you can only be sure youre still negative if you havent had a potential HIV exposure since your last test. If youre sexually active, continue to take actions to prevent HIV, like using condoms the right way every time you have sex and taking medicines to prevent HIV if youre at high risk.
Before Treatment: Detectable Viral Load
When doctors say a person has detectable levels of HIV in a viral load test, it means there is a significant amount of HIV in their blood. This level will vary based on the stage of the condition and the stage of treatment.
On first diagnosis of HIV, a persons viral load is typically high. Shortly after contracting HIV, the viral load will drop as the immune system starts to fight the virus.
Without treatment, the viral load will rise again as the virus starts to destroy specific immune system cells known as CD4 cells.
What Will Being Undetectable Mean For Me
Having an undetectable viral load means that your ART is effectively controlling your HIV. This will protect your immune system and help you to stay in good health.
Being undetectable also means that you dont have to worry about passing HIV onto your sexual partners. For many people this is just as important to them, giving them relief from the anxiety of passing HIV on. Some people find that knowing theyre undetectable makes it easier to with others, as it can be reassuring for others to know that your health is protected and you cant pass it on too.
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How Long Does It Take For Hiv To Show Up
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention , early-stage HIV symptoms typically occur around two-six weeks following exposure . With that in mind, the majority of people with HIV will develop antibodies around this time and should test positive if they have the infection.
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What Is It Used For
An HIV test is used to find out if you have been infected with HIV. HIV is the virus that causes AIDS . Most people with HIV don’t have AIDS. People with AIDS have an extremely low number of immune cells and are at risk for life-threatening illnesses, including dangerous infections, a severe type of pneumonia, and certain cancers, including Kaposi sarcoma.
If HIV is found early, you can get medicines to protect your immune system. HIV medicines may prevent you from getting AIDS.
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After Treatment: Undetectable Viral Load
Antiretroviral therapy aims to reduce a persons viral load to undetectable levels. This is known as viral suppression.
After starting antiretroviral therapy, a persons HIV viral load tests will come back with low numbers. When this occurs, the treatment is working, and HIV is no longer progressing. With a lower viral load, the chances of transmitting the virus to others become lower.
According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention , an undetectable viral load means less than 200 copies/ml .
An undetectable viral load means that a person has effectively zero risk of sexually transmitting the virus to an HIV-negative partner.
Large-scale has shown that when HIV is undetectable, it is virtually untransmittable, even through condomless sex.
This concept is known as U=U, which stands for undetectable = untransmittable.
Almost everyone who starts antiretroviral treatment finds a drug regimen that works within 6 months. It will take longer to find the right treatment in around 1 in 6 people because of their tolerance or adherence to the regimen.
HIV is a chronic condition. When the virus becomes undetectable, some copies still remain in the blood. People must continue to take their HIV medication as prescribed to keep their viral load undetectable.
When controlled, people living with HIV can experience the same quality of life as a person without HIV.
Does Being Durably Undetectable Mean That The Virus Has Left My Body
Even when viral load is undetectable, HIV is still present in the body. The virus lies dormant inside a small number of cells in the body called viral reservoirs. When therapy is halted by missing doses, taking a treatment holiday or stopping treatment, the virus emerges and begins to multiply, becoming detectable in the blood again. This newly reproducing virus is infectious. It is essential to take every pill every day as directed to achieve and maintain a durably undetectable status.
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What Does A Positive Hiv Test Result Mean
If you have a positive HIV test result, a follow-up test will be conducted. If the follow-up test is also positive, it means you are HIV-positive.
If you had a rapid screening test, the testing site will arrange a follow-up test to make sure the screening test result was correct. If you used a self-testing kit at home, a positive HIV test result must always be confirmed by additional HIV testing performed in a health care setting. If your blood was tested in a lab, the lab will conduct a follow-up test on the same sample.
If your follow-up test result confirms you are infected with HIV, the next thing is to take steps to protect your health and prevent transmission to others. Begin by talking to your health care provider about antiretroviral therapy . ART is the use of HIV medicines to treat HIV infection. People on ART take a combination of HIV medicines every day. ART can keep you healthy for many years and greatly reduces your chance of transmitting HIV to your sex partner if taken the right way, every day. Your health care provider will help you decide what HIV medicines to take.
If you have health insurance, your insurer is required to cover some medicines used to treat HIV. If you dont have health insurance, or you need help because your insurance doesnt pay for the treatment you need, there are Federal resources that may help you.
To lower your risk of transmitting HIV,
When To Get Tested
Seek medical advice immediately if you think there’s a chance you could have HIV. The earlier it’s diagnosed, the earlier you can start treatment and avoid becoming seriously ill.
Some HIV tests may need to be repeated 1-3 months after exposure to HIV infection, but you should not wait this long to seek help.
A GP or a sexual health professional can talk to you about having a test and discuss whether you should take emergency HIV medicine.
Anti-HIV medicine called post-exposure prophylaxis may stop you becoming infected if taken within 72 hours of being exposed to the virus.
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What Is An Undetectable Viral Load
- Taking antiretroviral treatment reduces the amount of HIV in your body.
- With proper adherence, ART can reduce HIV to such low levels that the virus can no longer be detected in normal blood tests. This is called having an undetectable viral load.
- People with undetectable viral loads cant pass HIV on through sex.
- To know that youre undetectable, you must have your viral load monitored regularly.
- Remember your viral load can change. If you stop taking your treatment properly your viral load will go up again.
What The Results Mean
A high viral load is generally considered about 100,000 copies, but you could have 1 million or more. The virus is at work making copies of itself, and the disease may progress quickly.
A lower HIV viral load is below 10,000 copies. The virus probably isn’t actively reproducing as fast, and damage to your immune system may be slowed, but this is not optimal.
A viral load that can’t be detected — less than 20 copies — is always the goal of HIV treatment. This doesn’t mean you’re cured. Unfortunately, the virus is still able to survive in various cells in the body. But maintaining an undetectable viral load is compatible with a normal, or near-normal life span. Continuing to take your medicine as prescribed to keep the virus undetectable is very important.
When your HIV viral load is undetectable, there is little to no risk of infecting others, but most doctors still advise using condoms to prevent acquiring other strains of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.
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How Accurate Is An Hiv Test What Is The Window Period For An Hiv Test
The current testing protocols are highly accurate but not perfect. The probability of a false result on the test depends on the test and on the person’s risk factors for getting infected. The lower the risk of getting HIV, the higher the probability of a false- positive result.
Falsely negative tests occur in people who are truly infected with HIV but have negative tests. Among 1,000 people who are truly infected, rapid tests will be falsely negative in zero to six people, depending on the test. Negative antibody tests in people infected with HIV may occur because antibody concentrations are low or because antibodies have not yet developed. On average, antibodies take about four weeks to reach detectable levels after initial infection, and falsely negative tests may occur during this so-called HIV window period. Individuals with negative tests and who had high risk for HIV exposure should be retested in two to three months.
What Is An Hiv Test
An HIV test shows whether you are infected with HIV . HIV is a virus that attacks and destroys cells in the immune system. These cells protect your body against disease-causing germs, such as bacteria and viruses. If you lose too many immune cells, your body will have trouble fighting off infections and other diseases.
There are three main types of HIV tests:
- Antibody Test. This test looks for HIV antibodies in your blood or saliva. Your immune system makes antibodies when you are exposed to bacteria or viruses, like HIV. An HIV antibody test can determine if you have HIV from 312 weeks after infection. That’s because it can take a few weeks or longer for your immune system to make antibodies to HIV. You may be able to do an HIV antibody test in the privacy of your home. Ask your health care provider about at-home HIV test kits.
- HIV Antibody/Antigen Test. This test looks for HIV antibodies and antigens in the blood. An antigen is a part of a virus that triggers an immune response. If you’ve been exposed to HIV, antigens will show up in your blood before HIV antibodies are made. This test can usually find HIV within 26 weeks of infection. The HIV antibody/antigen test is one of the most common types of HIV tests.
- HIV Viral Load. This test measures the amount of the HIV virus in the blood. It can find HIV faster than antibody and antibody/antigen tests, but it is very expensive. It is mostly used for monitoring HIV infections.
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Confirmation Of Hiv Infection
Patients who have been tested and found to be HIV positive are regularly referred from various primary and secondary hospitals, as well stand-alone HCT centers, to the UCH ART clinic for management. HIV infection status of the patients was confirmed by Western Immunoblot , a qualitative immunoblot assay with a nitrocellulose membrane containing 8 HIV-1 proteins and a recombinant HIV-2 specific envelope antigen . Briefly, the nitrocellulose strip containing the HIV-1 and 2 proteins were reacted with 10 L of serum/plasma specimen and washed to remove unbound antibody. Human immunoglobulin specifically bound to HIV-1 or HIV-2 proteins/antigen is visualized after reaction with goat antihuman immunoglobulin-alkaline phosphatase conjugate and BCIP/NBT substrate. The bands on the test strips are identified by comparing them to the bands on the positive control strip and results interpreted as follows: No band present , any two or more of the following bands present: p24, gp41, gp120/gp160 , any band pattern not matching the criteria for positive HIV-1 result , HIV-2 band present . Only individuals with positive Western blot results were pre-assessed for ART initiation.
Dried Blood Spot Test
A DBS test is a free, accurate and convenient way to test for HIV in the comfort and privacy of your home.
It involves collecting a few drops of blood from your finger and allowing the blood to dry on a test card. You then send the card away to get tested and wait around a week to get the result back. You can register for a DBS HIV test here.
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Can My Viral Load Continue To Change
Yes, your viral load can continue to change. This would usually be a result of factors to do with your adherence , or other health issues. Regular viral load monitoring will help you stay on top of these changes, so you can manage your health accordingly.
Your viral load usually drops quickly after first starting treatment, however it may be a while before it reaches a point where its undetectable. Most people who adhere properly to their treatment become undetectable after about six months, but its important that you have a viral load test to confirm this.
While changes to viral load can occur, they should be relatively uncommon for people who adhere properly to their medication and are otherwise in good health. Your viral load monitoring appointments are there to help you to identify and respond to any changes in your viral load.
These appointments also give you time to discuss any difficulties you are having with your medication. Often big life changes, like starting a new relationship or moving to a new place, can make adherence more difficult. Your healthcare worker can help you with any new challenges and work with you to stay healthy and keep your viral load low.
What Do Test Results Mean
To understand what your test results mean, you first have to understand what kind of test is being used and what a “window period” is.
Most HIV screening tests look for HIV antigen or for HIV antibodies , or may look for both. Newer testing strategies use a combination antigen/antibody test. Some testing sites also use a test that looks for genetic material of the HIV virus.
The window period is the period between the time someone is first infected with the HIV virus and the time an HIV test can detect HIV infection. After someone has been infected with the virus it can take about 2 weeks for HIV antigen to be detectable with current antigen tests, and more than 3 weeks to produce enough HIV antibodies to be detected by antibody tests. In a very small number of people, the process takes up to several months.
During the window period, someone might be infected with HIV yet still have a negative result on an HIV test. Here’s how that can happen. Let’s say you have condomless sex on Saturday night and become infected with HIV. On Monday, you get an HIV test. The test almost certainly will come back negative, because there is not yet enough HIV antigen or HIV antibody for the tests to detect.
Newer methods of HIV testing are narrowing the time of the “window period” and reducing the chance of a falsely negative result.
When testing is completed, your provider will tell you the result. Possible results are:
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Why Might People Living With Hiv Get Tested For Hiv
Because we connect with every single person who tests positive at one of our locations, we always ask why people get tested for HIV if theyve already been diagnosed in the past.
It happens for many reasons: People may test with a partner they havent yet disclosed to, they may have mental health concerns that come into play, or they need a letter of diagnosis to access services . Sometimes its because they are confused about the kind of information an HIV test will provide.
Now that weknow undetectable equals untransmittable , some people may have the misconception thatif youre undetectable, you will no longer test positive for HIV. They may think that if they test HIV-negative on an HIV test, theyll be able to show this to their sex partners as a way to prove that theyre undetectable and untransmittable. Or, they may think it will be easier to tell partners theyre HIV-negative rather than undetectable and uninfectious.
If you are living with HIV and have an undetectable viral load, you will still test positive for HIV. But, if you are living with HIV, have been taking HIV medications every day as directed, have a durably suppressed viral load and have been undetectable for at least six months, you will not transmit HIV to sex partners. You are not infectious. Thats the meaning of U=U.
Heres why you will still test positive for HIV even if you are undetectable.