Hesperian Health Guides

The HIV Test

Rapid HIV testing is available in many health centers and hospitals at low or no cost. You can usually get test results the same day.

When HIV enters the body, the body starts to make antibodies right away to fight the virus. These antibodies usually show in the blood 2 to 4 weeks later.

The HIV test looks for these antibodies in the blood. An HIV test is the only way to know if a person has been infected with HIV.
It is not a test for AIDS.

A positive HIV test means that you are infected with the virus and your body has made antibodies to HIV. Even if you feel completely well, you can spread the virus to others.

A negative HIV test means 1 of 2 things:

  • you are not infected with HIV, or
  • you were recently infected but your body has not yet made enough antibodies to HIV to test positive.

If you have tested negative for HIV but think you might be infected, you should take the test again in about 6 weeks. Sometimes a positive test also needs to be repeated. A health worker can help you decide.

The HIV test should always be done:

  • with your permission.
  • with counseling before and after the test.
  • with privacy. No one should know the results except you and those you want to know.

When should you have the HIV test?

It may be more important to change unsafe behavior than to have an HIV test. But you and your partner may want to be tested if:

  • you want to get married (or start a faithful sexual relationship with one person) or have children.
  • you are pregnant.
  • you, your partner, or your baby have signs of HIV.
  • you or your partner have been having unsafe sex.

The advantages of knowing the test results

If possible, have someone you trust go with you to get your HIV test results.

If your test is negative, you can learn how to protect yourself so that you stay negative and never get HIV.

If your test is positive, you can:

  • prevent the spread of HIV to your partner or baby.
  • get care and treatment early to prevent health problems.
  • make changes in how you live so you can stay healthy longer.
  • get support from other HIV-infected people in your community.
  • plan for yourself and your family’s future.

The disadvantages of knowing the test results

You may have many different feelings if you find out you are infected with HIV. It is normal at first to be shocked and deny that your test results are positive. You may also feel anger and despair, and blame yourself or others.

It often helps to talk with someone, such as the health worker who gave you the test results or someone close to you. But be careful who you tell. Your husband or partner may blame you, even if he is also infected with HIV. Other people may act afraid and shun you, because they do not understand HIV or how it is spread. If possible, see a trained HIV counselor, who can help you decide who to tell and how to face this change in your life.


a woman talking to a couple sitting with her at a table A counselor is someone who listens and talks with a person and his or her family to help them cope with their worries, concerns, and fears, and to make their own decisions.

Counseling is important throughout the life of a person with HIV, not only when they first discover they are infected.

More Information
mental health

A skilled counselor may be able to help a person:

  • decide who to tell about being HIV-infected, and how.
  • find the support of others who are also HIV-infected.
  • get the care and treatment she needs early from health centers,
    including preparing for and taking ART.
  • get the support she needs from her family.
  • understand how to stay as healthy as possible.
  • plan for her future.
  • learn how to be sexual in a safe way.

This page was updated:21 May 2021