Blood vile with the words 'HIV-test' written on the label
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HIV: what to expect when getting tested

We talk about HIV all the time but don’t know what to expect when getting tested for HIV. To help you have a better experience, we’ll walk you through what happens in a testing room.

HIV and STI testing should be a regular part of the life of any person who has sex. It's important because, as a sexually active person, you don't only want to protect yourself from getting STIs but also stay aware of your status and, ideally, your partner's status.

In many instances, you may not know you’ve been infected because many people believe penetrative sex is the only way to catch an STI. But that's not true.

Even without penetrative sex, HIV and STIs can be passed on through bodily fluids and some STIs through skin-to-skin contact.

So why should you get tested? Because knowing is better than guessing. Because early detection of STIs will save you from long-term problems. And because you care about yourself and your sexual partner(s).

The truth is, many of us don't know how to go about getting tested and what to expect. The first is easy enough to solve as every hospital carries out the tests and Voluntary Counselling and Testing Centres (VCT) can be found all over the country.

The second isn’t as scary as it seems. Here’s what to expect:

A short talk

The health worker or counsellor will want to get to know you a little bit first. They will ask a few questions about your sex life. This could be:

  • What made you want to get tested?
  • Have you been tested before?
  • How many sexual partners do you have?
  • What kinds of sex have you had lately?

Nothing difficult or alarming, so answer honestly. All the information you share will remain private. They will also take you through the testing methods and what happens next.

Sample taking

Now you will be requested to give a sample based on what you are being tested for. You will be asked to give blood for Hepatitis B, syphilis, and HIV or urine for gonorrhoea and chlamydia.

In most cases, the health worker will do a rapid test where they will take a drop of your blood by pricking your finger. The drop is then placed in a test kit where a chemical agent is added that gives a result within minutes. This test is mainly for HIV.

More detailed tests are done for other STIs depending on your symptoms or requests. For men, they may take a cotton swab or bud and collect fluids from your throat, anus, or urethra (the tube that carries urine from the bladder through your penis).
For women, they may also use a cotton swab to collect samples from the vagina and/or cervix through a pelvic exam.

No need to worry though, they will only carry out the tests you are comfortable with and, thankfully, most STIs can be detected through urine and blood samples.

The window period

Before or during your post-test counselling, you will be told about the window period. This is the time between potential exposure to HIV infection and the point when the test will give an accurate result. During this time, it is possible to be HIV-positive and highly infectious but still test negative for HIV.

To be sure, get yourself re-tested after six weeks to confirm your first result.

Results and post-test counselling

Finally, the health worker will give you your results. If you had the rapid test you will receive your results on the same day, shortly after your blood was taken. But if you had the more detailed tests, you will receive them several days later.

The health worker or counsellor will deliver the results clearly and in simple terms. They will then confirm if you have understood and help you through the resulting emotions.

If you tested negative for HIV, they may take you through what you can do to stay safe in the future or discuss any concerns you may have. Should you test positive for HIV, the health worker will help you understand what this means and what happens next.

Finding out early that you are HIV-positive means that you have a better chance of living a long and healthy life.

All in all, knowing your HIV status will allow you to plan for the future, for your sexual activity, for your health and well-being, including that of your family or partner.


Do you have more questions about HIV and STD testing? Our discussion board moderators are here to help!

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