Today, living with HIV is a very different experience from just ten years ago. Advances in prevention, treatment and care mean that people living with HIV and on effective treatment have a near-normal life expectancy. This article outlines the importance of HIV testing and diagnosis in ending the epidemic.


HIV testing is important because early detection and timely intervention are key in managing HIV effectively.1 During the initial phases, HIV may be symptomless or flu-like, making reliance on symptoms alone insufficient.1,2 These flu-like symptoms may include a fever (often accompanied with chills or night sweats), headaches, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, and a persistent sore throat.1,2 A skin rash or muscle and joint pain may also become apparent, as well as weight loss, mouth ulcers, and diarrhoea.1,2 Clearly, these early HIV symptoms are also associated with other common illnesses and health conditions, so this emphasises why regular testing is so vital.

HIV can be acquired through bodily fluids like blood and semen and is more easily transmitted in the early stages, making testing necessary not just for personal health but also to prevent unintentional transmission to others.2,3 Testing is the first step towards early diagnosis of HIV and guiding people living with HIV towards treatment.2,3

Innovation in HIV testing has brought us steps closer to the UNAIDS target of 95% of people living with HIV knowing their status by 2030.4 However, efforts are still underway; only 84% of all people living with HIV were aware of their status in 2021. In some regions, such as sub-Saharan Africa, this percentage is even lower.4

Awareness of HIV status is also lower globally among certain populations, such as sex workers, men who have sex with men (MSM), people who inject drugs (PWID), and transgender people, highlighting the need for increased testing access (facility and community-based) in high-incidence communities to meet the UNAIDS 2030 goal.4

Lower awareness of HIV status in these populations generally stems from the high levels of stigma and discrimination that they face due to their sexual orientation, gender identity, or lifestyle choices.22 Internalised or ‘self’ stigma is also common in these groups, leading to feelings of shame, isolation, and fear of disclosure.22 All these factors can create barriers to seeking HIV testing due to fear of judgement or mistreatment.22 In some parts of the world, stigma and discrimination can also extend into criminalisation (i.e. legal and religious barriers), and these individuals may also face higher rates of mental health challenges, including depression, which can also impact their ability to seek HIV testing.41,42


Everyone should get tested for HIV, particularly people who are sexually active. The CDC recommends that everyone between 13 and 64 years old gets an HIV test at least once in a lifetime.3,5

It is generally advised that some people get tested more often (i.e. every 3 to 6 months). These include high-incidence groups, such as: MSM, PWID, those with a history of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), people who have sex without the use of prevention tools such as condoms, and those who have had sex with someone living with HIV with a detectable or unknown viral load.5,7 Having sex exclusively with someone with an undetectable viral load would cease the need for more frequent HIV testing. The World Health Organisation (WHO) states that people living with HIV who have an undetectable viral load, and take antiretroviral therapy (ART) as prescribed have zero risk of transmitting HIV to their sexual partner(s).43 Zero risk means undetectable equals untransmittable, often abbreviated as U=U.

Children who have experienced HIV exposure during or after their birth are offered even more frequent routine testing.7,8

The average age of HIV diagnosis varies globally, with some people diagnosed later in life than others. This is particularly notable in migrant populations, where language and cultural differences pose barriers to timely testing, leading to a late HIV diagnosis.6

7 common reasons to get tested for HIV

  • 1. Early detection

    HIV testing detects the virus before symptoms appear, or if you have a flu-like illness, a common reason for testing. Early diagnosis opposed to a late HIV diagnosis has many benefits; the sooner HIV treatment is started, the better the outcome.9 Starting ART early benefits individuals, society, and advances future HIV cure research.10-12

  • 2. Preventing HIV transmission

    Knowing your HIV status stops you from unknowingly transmitting it to others.13 If you’re HIV positive and maintain an undetectable viral load by taking HIV treatment, you won’t transmit the virus.14 U=U highlights the importance of HIV testing for public health.

  • 3. Eligibility for PrEP

    A negative HIV test result alone does not make you eligible for pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), but you can consult your sexual health practitioner to see if PrEP might be suitable for you. PrEP mainly helps those at an increased vulnerability to HIV — such as MSM, people who engage in condomless sex, PWID, and those with HIV-positive partners — to remain HIV negative.15,16 However, PrEP can also help people beyond these specific groups. PrEP is for anyone who wants a HIV prevention option.

  • 4. Routine health monitoring

    Regular HIV testing is offered as part of comprehensive health screening. In some countries you will be screened for HIV in combination with other STIs, such as chlamydia, gonorrhoea, and syphilis, and this may also cover hepatitis B and C. In the U.K., eligible individuals can also receive non-routine vaccinations such as hepatitis B and HPV at no charge. PrEP users should undergo HIV testing every 3 months as well as regular kidney function tests.17,18

  • 5. Screening during pregnancy

    HIV-positive pregnant individuals who are undergoing effective HIV treatment maintain an undetectable viral load. Treatment administered to their newborns for 2-6 weeks can reduce the risk of HIV transmission to 1% or less.19,20 The risk of HIV transmission through breastfeeding is also less than 1% provided the mother has an undetectable viral load during pregnancy, although pregnant women with HIV should reach out to their healthcare practitioner for advice about feeding their baby.19,21 ARDs should be used during pregnancy only if the potential benefit justifies the potential risk to the foetus.


  • 6. Peace of mind

    Uncertainty about HIV status after a potential exposure can cause extreme anxiety. A negative HIV test result provides peace of mind, reducing stress. For some, reducing the worry of HIV helps them to enjoy sex more. Utilising preventative measures such as condoms and PrEP can also alleviate future HIV testing concerns.13

  • 7. Fighting stigma

    Regular testing helps normalise HIV testing, reducing the stigma associated with HIV as a whole. This fosters empathy and support for those living with HIV within the community.22

How soon can HIV be detected by a blood test?

People commonly wonder, “how long does HIV take to show up on a test?” Whilst HIV tests are very accurate, they can’t detect the virus immediately after infection due to the ‘window period’, which roughly lasts between 2 and 12 weeks after exposure (depending on the test carried out).23 The window period is the time between the exposure and when a test can detect HIV in your body.

How soon HIV tests can detect the virus depends on the type of test being used (more on this in the ‘Types of HIV tests’ section below) and on the type of blood taken. Using blood from a vein can detect the viral load faster than tests using blood from a finger stick, or orally.24

How accurate is an HIV test after 2 weeks?

Testing after just 2 weeks would not give a reliable result due to the window period of HIV. Fourth generation tests can detect 99% of HIV cases 6 weeks after exposure, but testing at 4 weeks only identifies 95%.26 Early testing should be followed by a confirmatory test at 12 weeks, considering the 2—12 week window period.26,23 These tests detect both antibodies and the p24 antigen, offering higher sensitivity than third generation tests.


HIV tests in order from fastest to slowest test result are:

  • Rapid HIV test: as little as 30 minutes or less using a finger stick or oral swab.24
  • Home HIV test kits: home test kits such as OraQuick can get results in 20-40 minutes after an oral swab at home.25
  • Nucleic acid tests (NAT): a few days. These are lab-based tests also known as RNA testing.24
  • Antigen/antibody tests: detects HIV antibodies and the p24 antigen typically in a few days.24

How and where to get tested for HIV

Globally, barriers to HIV testing may include not knowing where to get tested, perceived costs, low awareness of self-perceived risk, and gender inequities.27,28

Barriers to testing vary greatly between countries, but there are many places to get an HIV test, including:

In clinics/doctor’s offices

The following types of clinics typically offer HIV testing (depending on the country):

  • sexual health or genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinics
  • gynaecologists (OB/GYN)
  • urologists
  • some primary care physicians (also known as family doctors and GPs)
  • some contraception and young people's clinics
  • antenatal clinic (if you're pregnant)
  • private clinics (where you will have to pay)
  • HIV testing centres run by charities or international humanitarian organisations (e.g Terrence Higgins Trust in the UK or Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), who offer HIV testing and treatment globally)29

Healthcare system disparities exist globally. In some countries like the U.S., HIV testing may involve costs or health insurance, while other countries provide free HIV testing services or affordable testing in clinics. Developing regions, like parts of sub-Saharan Africa, may face low testing coverage and awareness.30 Socio-economic status often determines access to HIV testing (i.e. poverty, unemployment), and the concentration of health facilities in urban areas poses challenges to people in rural communities.30

In the community

Community-based HIV testing, led by trusted leaders, enhances awareness and education about HIV and testing.31 Communities may expand testing availability and accessibility through clinics, mobile units, and community-based centres.31 For instance in Rotterdam, a high HIV-prevalent multicultural area in the Netherlands, ‘walk-in’ testing events were piloted by community leaders at a boxing school, a community centre, and at a community support organisation where mainly women with a migratory background socialise.31 HIV testing was provided along with an assessment of body mass index (BMI), blood pressure, blood glucose, and HIV education.31

At home using an HIV self test

Self-testing is available in some countries, allowing individuals to test for HIV in the privacy of their own home. This is particularly valuable for those who prefer a less medical environment for increased comfort or have limited access to testing services, such as those in rural areas.32

Where to buy a home HIV test kit

You can buy HIV home test kits online (e.g. via the Terrence Higgins Trust in the UK or s.a.m health in Germany) or collect them at pharmacies, usually after answering a few questions about symptoms and sexual health history.33

Globally, social enterprise MedAccess also collaborates with Wondfo (a point-of-care testing manufacturer) to offer its HIV self-test at a record low price of $1 for public sector purchasers in 140 low- and middle-income countries.44 FDA-approved kits such as the OraQuick® HIV Self-Test Kit are also an option with availability in the UK, India (via Ubuy), and Europe (including Germany, France, Italy, Spain, and Portugal).25,45

Where to get a free home HIV test kit

Some sites may offer free home testing in partnership with hospitals, while others require payment. The Terrence Higgins Trust, for example, offers a free HIV home test finder for anywhere in the UK.34 Some other countries may have their own free test initiatives from sites affiliated with local public health departments, such as in Florida, USA.

Globally, Unitaid offer HIV self-testing in low- and middle-income countries such as Côte d’Ivoire, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mail, Senegal, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.46 In 2015, Unitaid funded the Self-Testing Africa Initiative (STAR), and by November 2018, STAR had distributed 2.3 million HIV self-test kits in Africa.46

HIV self-testing typically involves collecting a saliva or blood sample at home, which – depending on the product – can be either analysed at home or sent by mail for analysis in a laboratory.

Counselling services

The following types of counselling services typically offer HIV testing, depending on the country:

  • Local drug dependency services
  • Public health offices
  • Checkpoints
  • AIDS Action

Globally, different countries will have different accessibility to counselling services. In some low-income nations, people in rural areas may have no adequate voluntary counselling and testing services.36 Some countries may also have strict privacy laws to protect an individual’s HIV status, but in others, such laws may not exist, and people may face significant stigma.35,36

In countries with multiple languages, counselling could become very complex to deliver, and government policies also have a big influence. Many countries may have robust government-funded programmes, while others may rely more on NGOs and international organisations.37


HIV tests typically detect the virus by taking a sample of your blood – either with a conventional blood test or a rapid test (a pin prick). Oral swab tests using saliva are another available option.38

Below is an overview of the different types of tests used, and how long HIV takes to show up in each different format:38

  • Antibody HIV tests

    • Antibody tests look for antibodies of HIV in a person’s blood or saliva, and detect HIV 23 to 90 days after exposure.38
    • Antibody test formats are most commonly found in self-tests and rapid tests (finger stick tests that will give you a result within minutes).38
  • Antigen/antibody HIV tests

    • Antigen/antibody tests are performed by a lab on blood from a vein and look for both HIV antibodies and antigens. They detect HIV 18 to 45 days after exposure.38
    • Antigens are foreign substances that cause a person’s immune system to activate. If a person has HIV, an antigen called p24 is produced before antibodies develop.38
    • Note: there is also a rapid antigen/antibody test available that is done with a finger stick and detects HIV 18 to 90 days after exposure.38
  • Nucleic acid HIV tests (NATs)

    • NATs look for actual virus material in the blood. A NAT can usually detect HIV 10 to 33 days after exposure.38
    • Consider this test if you have had a recent or possible exposure to HIV, are experiencing early symptoms, and have tested negative with an antibody or antigen/antibody test.38
  • Will HIV show up on a normal blood test?

    A standard blood test in health clinics or hospitals does not include HIV testing, as it doesn't measure HIV antibodies, antigens, or genetic material.

    Routine blood tests like the Complete Blood Count (CBC) (a test which measures different parts of the blood, i.e. red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets) also does not detect HIV. Despite this, a CBC test can indicate an early sign of an infection. Potential signs of HIV in a CBC test could be a low platelet count, high eosinophil count, or low neutrophil count in more advanced HIV.39

    To get an HIV test, you must specifically request one via HIV testing services, as hospitals do not automatically test for HIV. However, HIV testing is part of routine testing for pregnant women.


Your HIV test result reveals only your own HIV status, not that of your sexual partners. It is important that everyone potentially exposed to HIV transmission is tested separately and that nothing is assumed. 

Below are factors to consider when interpreting positive or negative HIV results.

Negative HIV test results

A negative test result doesn’t always rule out HIV, as the window period varies between individuals and depends on the test type. This is why different types of tests are performed.23

Positive HIV test results 

A positive antibody test result requires a follow-up lab test which is used to confirm a diagnosis of HIV.23

Confirmatory HIV tests are essential to rule out any false-positives, which can result from technical or biological errors, especially in self-test kits.40


There's no right or wrong way to respond to an HIV diagnosis. Dealing with an HIV diagnosis can be challenging in many ways, but strong networks of support and effective treatment that allow a maintained quality of life are available.

Some top tips of how to deal with HIV diagnosis include:

  • Fully cooperate with your HIV healthcare team for optimal treatment and a personalised care plan.
  • Seek support from loved ones. Counselling or mindfulness may also help you cope better with your new HIV diagnosis; your mental health is important and you should never have to go through HIV alone.
  • If disclosing your HIV status is not feasible due to factors like criminalisation or stigma, prioritise your safety and well-being. Seek support from trusted individuals, such as close friends or healthcare professionals, who can offer guidance and assistance while respecting your privacy.
  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle with nutrition, sleep, hydration, exercise, and stress management to support your immune system and reduce medication side effects.

A new HIV diagnosis may bring significant challenges, but remember, it doesn't define you. You are still the person you've always been.

Remember the empowering benefits of U = U, or "Undetectable = Untransmittable." When you maintain an undetectable viral load through treatment, you not only protect your own health and the health of others, but you also break down barriers and prove that HIV doesn't control your future.

Your journey will serve as a source of strength and motivation for other people living with HIV.

Watch inspirational stories on how others have dealt with their HIV diagnosis

Watch HIV stories now



This is a good place to begin if you have received your HIV diagnosis recently. Get the facts about HIV, discover what Undetectable = Untransmittable means for you and find support to help you start feeling empowered in your care.

Living with HIV has changed. Thanks to innovations in antiretroviral treatment (ART), HIV is now a manageable long-term health condition.1 Read on to discover useful information, resources, and where to find support.


  1. Symptoms of HIV. Published June 15, 2022. Accessed October 25, 2023.
  2. World Health Organisation (WHO). HIV and AIDS. Published July 13, 2023. Accessed October 25, 2023.
  3. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). HIV Testing. Published June 9, 2022. Accessed October 25, 2023.
  4. Sundararajan R, Ponticiello M, Nansera D, Jeremiah K, Muyindike W. Interventions to Increase HIV Testing Uptake in Global Settings. Current HIV/AIDS Reports. 2022;19(3):184-193. doi:
  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Getting Tested. Published June 22, 2022. Accessed October 25, 2023.
  6. Melvina Woode Owusu, Krankowska D, Panagiota Lourida, Weis N. Late HIV diagnosis among migrant women living in Europe — a systematic review of barriers to HIV testing. IJID Regions. 2023;7:206-215. doi:
  7. Who Should Get Tested for HIV & AIDS? HIV Basics. Published March 6, 2023. Accessed October 25, 2023.
  8. Diagnosis of HIV Infection in Infants and Children | NIH. Clinical Published January 31, 2023. Accessed October 25, 2023.
  9. The Benefits of Knowing Your HIV Status.
  10. Herout S, Mattias Mandorfer, F Breitenecker, et al. Impact of Early Initiation of Antiretroviral Therapy in Patients with Acute HIV Infection in Vienna, Austria. PLOS ONE. 2016;11(4):e0152910-e0152910. doi:
  11. Lundgren JD, Abdel Babiker, Sharma S, et al. Long-Term Benefits from Early Antiretroviral Therapy Initiation in HIV Infection. NEJM evidence. 2023;2(3). doi:
  12. De Clercq J, Rutsaert S, De Scheerder MA, Verhofstede C, Callens S, Vandekerckhove L. Benefits of antiretroviral therapy initiation during acute HIV infection. Acta Clin Belg. 2022;77(1):168-176. doi:10.1080/17843286.2020.1770413
  13. Eleanor W. Why Take an HIV Test? Concerns, Benefits, and Strategies to Promote HIV Testing Among Low-Income Heterosexual African American Young Adults - Scyatta A. Wallace, Eleanor McLellan-Lemal, Muriel J. Harris, Tiffany G. Townsend, Kim S. Miller, 2011. Health Education & Behavior. Published 2016. Accessed October 26, 2023.
  14. Protecting Others. Published 2023. Accessed October 26, 2023.
  15. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. NICE recommends offering PrEP to people at high risk of HIV for first time | News | News | NICE. NICE. Published December 16, 2021. Accessed October 26, 2023.
  16. Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) | NIH. Published 2021. Accessed October 26, 2023.
  17. Testing & Treatment of STIs | Lets Talk About It. Lets Talk About It. Published 2016. Accessed October 30, 2023.
  18. Koppe U, Seifried J, Marcus U, et al. HIV, STI and renal function testing frequency and STI history among current users of self-funded HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis, a cross-sectional study, Germany, 2018 and 2019. Euro Surveill. 2022;27(14):2100503. doi:10.2807/1560-7917.ES.2022.27.14.2100503
  19. Preventing Perinatal Transmission of HIV | NIH. Published 2023. Accessed October 26, 2023.
  20. HIV and Pregnancy: Protecting Mother and Child. Published 2022. Accessed November 1, 2023.
  21. Prevent Mother-to-Child Transmission. Published 2023. Accessed November 1, 2023.
  22. CDC. HIV Stigma. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Published November 3, 2022. Accessed October 30, 2023.
  23. Understanding the HIV Window Period. Published 2023. Accessed October 30, 2023.
  24. Types of HIV Tests. Published 2023. Accessed October 30, 2023.
  25. OraQuick® HIV Self-Test. Published 2023. Accessed October 30, 2023.
  26. HIV test accuracy, results and further testing | Guides | HIV i-Base. Published 2021. Accessed October 31, 2023.
  27. Wise JM, Ott C, Azuero A, et al. Barriers to HIV Testing: Patient and Provider Perspectives in the Deep South. AIDS and Behavior. 2019;23(4):1062-1072. doi:
  28. In Women’s Eyes: Key Barriers to Women’s Access to HIV Treatment and a Rights-Based Approach to their Sustained Well-Being. Health and Human Rights Journal. Published December 4, 2017. Accessed October 31, 2023.
  29. Centres and services | Terrence Higgins Trust. Published 2023. Accessed October 31, 2023.
  30. Zegeye B, Adjei NK, Ahinkorah BO, Tesema GA, Ameyaw EK, Budu E, Seidu AA, Yaya S. HIV testing among women of reproductive age in 28 sub-Saharan African countries: a multilevel modelling. International Health.2023;15(5):573-584. doi:
  31. Twisk DE, Watzeels A, Götz HM. Community-based HIV testing through a general health check event in a high HIV-prevalent multicultural area in Rotterdam, The Netherlands: a pilot study on feasibility and acceptance. Pilot and Feasibility Studies. 2023;9(1). doi:
  32. Harichund C, Mosa Moshabela. Acceptability of HIV Self-Testing in Sub-Saharan Africa: Scoping Study. AIDS and Behavior. 2017;22(2):560-568. doi:
  33. HIV self testing from Terrence Higgins Trust. Self testing from Terrence Higgins Trust. Published 2023. Accessed October 31, 2023.
  34. UK online free HIV test finder | Self testing from Terrence Higgins Trust. Self testing from Terrence Higgins Trust. Published 2023. Accessed October 31, 2023.
  35. Bott S, Carla Makhlouf Obermeyer. The social and gender context of HIV disclosure in sub-Saharan Africa: A review of policies and practices. SAHARA-J. 2013;10(sup1):S5-S16. doi:
  36. Ma W, Detels R, Feng Y, et al. Acceptance of and barriers to voluntary HIV counselling and testing among adults in Guizhou province, China. AIDS. 2007;21(Suppl 8):S129-S135. doi:
  37. Kelly JA, Somlai AM, Benotsch EG, et al. Programmes, resources, and needs of HIV-prevention nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in Africa, Central/Eastern Europe and Central Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean. Aids Care-psychological and Socio-medical Aspects of Aids/hiv. 2006;18(1):12-21. doi:
  38. Centre for Disease Control and Prevention. HIV Testing. Published 2023. Accessed October 27, 2023.
  39. Complete Blood Count (CBC) - International Association of Providers of AIDS Care. International Association of Providers of AIDS Care. Published May 18, 2021. Accessed October 27, 2023.
  40. False positive results on HIV tests. Published June 8, 2021. Accessed October 31, 2023.
  41. Bernard EJ, Symington A, Beaumont S. Punishing Vulnerability Through HIV Criminalization. American Journal of Public Health. 2022;112(S4):S395-S397. doi:
  42. Moore KE, Stuewig JB, Tangney JP. The Effect of Stigma on Criminal Offenders’ Functioning: A Longitudinal Mediational Model. Deviant Behavior. 2015;37(2):196-218. doi:
  43. The Role of HIV Viral Suppression in Improving Individual Health and Reducing Transmission. World Health Organization Policy brief; 2023. Accessed November 28, 2023.
  44. HIV self-test - MedAccess. MedAccess. Published September 20, 2023. Accessed November 29, 2023.
  45. European AIDS Treatment Group. OraSure Technologies, Inc. expands HIV oral swab in-home test into Europe | EATG. Published 2022. Accessed November 29, 2023.
  46. Access to HIV self-testing in low- and middle-income countries - Unitaid. Unitaid. Published December 18, 2018. Accessed November 29, 2023.

NP-GBL-HVX-COCO-240001 | February 2024

Reporting of side effects

If you get any side effects, talk to your doctor, pharmacist or nurse. This includes any possible side effects not listed in the package leaflet. You can also report side effects directly via the Yellow Card Scheme at or search for MHRA Yellowcard in the Google Play or Apple App store. By reporting side effects, you can help provide more information on the safety of this medicine.

If you are from outside the UK, you can report adverse events to GSK/ViiV by selecting your region and market, here.