For years, individuals who are at risk of contracting HIV have been told to “Know Your HIV Status.” But it’s important to know that none of the HIV tests available today can detect an HIV infection immediately after it happens.
All of the tests that currently exist come with what’s called a “window period:” a period of time after initial infection where the person has HIV, but would test negative, because they don’t have enough HIV (or antibodies) yet to get an accurate result. This means that, depending on when you were exposed, you could test negative for HIV even though you’re actually positive.
How long the window period lasts varies from person to person, but in general:
- A saliva test has a window period of 23-90 days.
- An antigen/antibody blood test has a window period of 18-45 days if done with a blood draw, or 18-90 days if done with a finger prick.
- A nucleic acid test (NAT), which is done with a blood draw, has a window period of 3-30 days.
In order for a test to be accurate, the person being tested must abstain from sex during the window period. This is an unrealistic expectation, though. People will continue having sex.
If you’ve been (or think you’ve been) exposed to HIV and got a negative result within the window period, be sure to get tested again after the window period is over (and again, without having sex during the window period). Your test results are only accurate if you got tested after the window period, and if you haven’t had any exposure during the window period.
(And if your exposure to HIV took place in the past 72 hours, contact BLISS HEALTH immediately to get PEP — post-exposure-prophylaxis — right away. It can prevent you from becoming infected.)
So even people who are getting tested regularly don’t always know their HIV status. There are only two ways to know your actual HIV status at any given time:
- Be HIV positive. Once a person is diagnosed with HIV, that person will remain positive, so they’ll always know their status. (But if you’re currently negative, this is an outcome best avoided.)
- Take PrEP daily. Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is an antiretroviral medication that protects sexually active people from contracting HIV. It’s safe, and eliminates the risk of contracting HIV when taken daily.
Why getting regular HIV tests doesn’t help prevent the spread of HIV
Not only is it possible for someone who’s infected with HIV to test negative during the window period – it’s also possible for them to spread the virus during the window period. And this is probably more common than we want to believe. Researchers estimate that despite the popularity of the “know your status” campaign, nearly 40% of new infections come from people who didn’t know they had HIV.
PrEP is the only way to protect yourself from HIV
PrEP protects people who don’t already have the HIV virus from becoming infected. If you’re on PrEP, you take one pill by mouth once per day. Over time, the medication builds up in your bloodstream, preventing HIV from infecting you even if you’re exposed.
PrEP is fully effective at preventing HIV infection when taken consistently every day. It’s safe, has few to no side effects, and allows you to enjoy sex without worrying about the potential risk of HIV exposure.
At BLISS, we offer PrEP to anyone who wants or needs it – free of charge – regardless of their insurance coverage or finances. To request an appointment, call our office at (407) 203-5984, text our office at (407) 743-6957, or contact us through our website.
If you are sexually active, talk to your doctor or contact BLISS Health to make an appointment for an HIV test, and start PrEP right away! There’s no point in getting tested for HIV multiple times and not starting PrEP.