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HIV Test

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HIV TEST DEFINITION

This is a test to determine whether a person is infected with the HIV virus. Note that people who are infected with the virus may still be several years away from developing the acutely degraded immune systems associated with AIDS, and having HIV does not mean that you have full-blown AIDS. However, even asymptomatic HIV-positive people can transmit the virus.

HIV TEST PURPOSE

This is done to determine whether a person who has engaged in high-risk behavior or in some other way possibly been exposed to sufficient HIV viruses in order to become infected is now carrying the HIV virus.

HIV TEST RISKS

This is quite a simple, non-invasive procedure. Indeed, the people collecting and working with the blood samples might be more at risk for being exposed to the virus from infected blood, especially if equipment is defective, handled improperly, etc.

There may also be a risk of misdiagnosis, especially of false negatives. This is because many HIV tests do not directly detect the virus, but rather the antibodies the patient’s immune system produces in an initial attempt to fight off the infection. It often takes a few months (about three) for the antibodies to appear, so timing is very important. Tests for viral RNA can detect infection in less than two weeks, but these tests are harder to find.

HIV TEST PREPARATION REQUIRED

Actually, emotional preparation may be the most difficult part of getting this test. As a side note, many testing centers also offer counseling, especially people who have just tested positive for the virus.

HIV TEST PROCEDURE

HIV TEST
Image: HIV TEST
Depending on the test used, a blood sample is collected, or, alternatively, an oral fluid sample. Many tests take a few days to yield results. However, rapid tests have been developed that can yield a result in two minutes, albeit with the issue that positive results should lead to a second confirmatory test. Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests, which detect viral RNA, are best for screening babies whose mothers are infected, as the presence of the mother’s antibodies in the infant in the months after birth may yield false positives in more common antibody-based testing.

Sometimes, patients prefer to take samples or even do tests at home. However, this is uncommon and may cause difficulties due to lack of skill and experience on the patients’ part.

HIV TEST COMPLICATIONS

The test is quite straightforward. Determining the proper time for testing may be a bit complicated, however, especially if the person has frequent possible exposures.

HIV TEST SIDE EFFECTS

Again, this is a very straightforward test. There are really no significant side effects, unless we consider stress.

HIV TEST RESULTS

The person tests either positive or negative for the virus. However, given the issues of the three-month window period, perhaps two negative six months apart, without exposures in between, can truly confirm that a person is HIV-free. As stated above, it is also possible in some circumstances to have a false positive result.
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