The CDC recommends that every person between the ages of 13 and 64, who is sexually active, should be tested at least once in their lifetime for HIV. There are many different places you can get tested for HIV such as a doctor’s office, a private laboratory, a mobile testing unit or a home test. Beyond where you can test, there are also a number of options for what types of HIV tests you can take.

Antibody or antibody/antigen tests
HIV antibody tests are the most common type of HIV testing. These test for the antibodies that your body produces in order to combat HIV. It is most often performed by collecting a blood sample since the level of antibody is higher in blood than it is in other types of bodily fluid. Most patients begin to produce these antibodies about six to eight weeks after exposure.

Several tests can detect both antibodies and antigens. These tests can detect the HIV infection sooner than an antibody-only test. These antigen/antibody combination tests can find HIV soon after exposure to the virus and are only available for testing blood. Not all testing sites offer this test by default.

RNA Tests
HIV RNA tests, also known as early detection tests, can detect the virus directly instead of looking for the antibodies to HIV. These tests can detect HIV as soon as it appears in the bloodstream, which is before antibodies develop. HIV RNA is the first marker of an HIV infection. Many doctors recommend the HIV RNA Early Detection Test if there is a risk of HIV exposure within the past 3 weeks. Since these tests are capable of recognizing the virus itself, they are are very effective in determining infection at a very early stage.

Most doctors recommend waiting at least two weeks after a potential exposure to test. They further recommended follow-up testing six weeks after that. If you are concerned that you may have been exposed to HIV, or you are simply looking for a regular screening, you should have HIV testing performed. This is the best way to know the current status of your sexual health.

1 – What are the types of HIV tests and how do they work
2 FDA – Information regarding Home HIV Testing options
3 UCSF – What kinds of HIV screening tests are available in the United States