Getting an HIV test can be one of the most anxiety-provoking things that you can do, in terms of your health. You have heard of the effects that HIV and AIDS can have on a person, and how that can impact the rest of their life in a huge number of ways.
However, getting tested, especially sooner rather than later, is one of the best ways to help manage it if you find that you are indeed positive.
Outside of getting the right treatment to help with AIDS-related diseases and cases, it will also help you stay informed so that you can make sure that any sexual partners you may have can also make sure that they stay healthy and well.
That is, of course, if you come back with a positive or reactive result. If the results come back and are unreactive, then it can leave you a little confused. What exactly is a non-reactive test? What does it mean to you and your health? Are there any extra steps that you should take once you have the result?
Well, that’s what we are going to discuss in this article! We are going to run down what an HIV test usually includes, as well as discuss what you need to do following the result, whether you get a positive or negative result.
What Does Hiv Testing Include?
Before we go any further, we should probably explain what exactly happens when you take an HIV test.
When you take a test, whether it is completed at home or a clinic, you will likely be using one of three tests: A Nucleic Acid Test, an antigen/antibody test, or an antibody test.
What each test is examining and looking for will vary slightly depending on which one you use. Generally speaking, these tests will either yield a positive result, and are ‘reactive’ or will be negative, or ‘non-reactive’.
Nucleic Acid Test (NAT)
A NAT test is testing for the presence of the actual HIV in your bloodstream. This is often the quickest, but most expensive, test that can be performed on a person, and as the process implies, requires a blood sample to be taken to check for the virus.
The test will be able to both tell a patient if they have HIV positive, as well as how much of the virus is present in the body.
Because it is expensive, this procedure is only done on people who are highly at risk for contracting it, this is not the test that is often done by most people.
This test, instead of directly testing for the presence of the virus in your blood, instead looks for the presence of antibodies and antigens that are made by your immune system.
These are substances that cause your body to react to the presence of a virus, such as HIV. If the virus has been caught early, a test will find the antigen before it identifies any antibodies. This test is also carried out using a blood sample, meaning it is usually carried out in professional health setting such as a clinic.
As the name suggests, these tests simply check for the presence of antibodies in any bodily fluid, such as blood from a finger prick or saliva/oral fluid. This means that the test can be carried out at home, though the results do often take longer to become clear.
What Happens With A Reactive Result?
A reactive test in this scenario will mean that the substance that the test is looking for, whether that is a specific antigen, antibody, or even the virus itself, has been detected. This is often a good indication that a patient has HIV, and further steps need to be taken.
Often, this will result in a series of more precise tests, to rule out that a person has other health conditions that can alter the result, such as immuno-compromising illnesses like lupus. Once it is confirmed that a person has HIV, the discussion on the best methods of treatment and health measures can start to happen.
What Does A Negative Test Result Mean?
If a reactive result means that the test has picked up some trace elements of HIV in the body, then a non-reactive result means the opposite: That no elements of HIV, whether it is the virus, antigens, or antibodies, have been found in the sample.
However, in the same way, a reactive test doesn’t necessarily mean that a person is sure to have HIV, a non-reactive result doesn’t mean that you do not have HIV in your body. This can often be the case if the HIV test is carried out immediately or soon after the person has come into contact with the virus, and needs to be accounted for.
Importance Of The Time Window During Testing
As we mentioned in the previous section, taking an HIV test right after coming into contact can often wield a false-negative result.
This is known as the ‘window period’, where HIV does exist in the body, but the virus, as well as any antibodies or antigens, do not occur in large enough quantities to be detected using the result using whatever test the patient has taken.
How soon these items can be detected and found will vary from person to person, as well as depending on what test they are using to find the virus.
For example, a rapid test can detect the presence of HIV in half of the patients by the start of the third week after infection, with it being 99% accurate in HIV-positive patients by week 12. Antigen tests meanwhile can take a little longer, between 18 and 44 days after infection.
So, as you can see, timing is very important when it comes to testing for HIV. If you suspect that you have been in contact with HIV, and your test result is negative, consult a health professional for more advice.