Sometimes you just need certainty. After exposure, it is particularly important to know for sure that you are not infected. An HIV test gives you clarity.
Key facts about the HIV test
- An HIV test is the only way to find out whether you are HIV-positive.
- Knowing for sure is worthwhile in any case: A negative test result gives you certainty and you can continue protecting yourself from HIV by practicing safer sex and safer use. If the test result is positive, you can start a therapy: Because you can live a good and long life despite HIV.
- You can take an HIV test anonymously and also receive counselling at testing facilities such as AIDS Service Organisations, public health departments or checkpoints. But testing is also offered by medical practices.
- In addition, you can test yourself for HIV at home using an HIV self-testing kit.
- After a possible HIV transmission, you need to wait for a few weeks before an HIV test can reliably rule out the infection. The waiting time depends on the respective test.
- Within the first 48 hours after exposure, PEP can be considered to prevent an HIV infection.
An HIV test gives you clarity
“Could I have been infected with HIV?” Many people ask themselves this question, for example, because they have had unprotected sex, because the condom has slipped off or because they have been exposed to other risks, such as a needlestick injury.
The situations that actually carry the risk of an HIV infection are listed in the “Transmission” section.
An HIV test will certainly clarify whether you are infected with HIV (“HIV-positive”) or not (“HIV-negative”).
Regular HIV testing?
Whether you should get tested and how often should preferably be discussed as part of a counselling session. Some examples of when testing is recommended are listed below:
- You should get tested if you have been exposed to a risk of HIV infection. This also applies if you have any symptoms that could be indicative of an HIV infection.
- Deutsche Aidshilfe [German AIDS Service Organisation] recommends that men who have sex with men should get tested for HIV (and other sexually transmitted infections) at least once a year (see also our campaign page for gay men offering information on HIV testing).
- Pregnant women should be offered an HIV test in any case. If an infection is detected, a mother-to-child transmission can be prevented.
- Intravenous drug users should clarify how often they should get tested for HIV and hepatitis C. Counselling is offered by drug counselling centres, substitution practices or checkpoints. Safer use provides protection from an infection.
- Those who want to take or are taking PrEP have to get tested for HIV before starting the therapy, four weeks after starting the therapy and then every three months.
Good reasons for taking an HIV test
If you are HIV-negative, you can protect yourself from HIV by practicing safer use and safer sex.
Apart from condoms, there are now also other options to prevent an HIV infection, such as Treatment as Prevention and PrEP. PrEP can be a good method of prevention for people who are frequently exposed to a risk of HIV infection.
If you are HIV-positive, you should soon start taking anti-HIV medication. You will then have a good chance of a normal life expectancy and good quality of life.
In addition, HIV then cannot be transmitted even when having sex without a condom (see also Treatment as Prevention). HIV therapy also prevents mother-to-child transmissions.
Hence, knowing for sure is worthwhile, and so is HIV testing.
What kinds of HIV tests are available?
There are various HIV tests that are used in different ways. However, most of them do not detect HIV directly. They look for antibodies in the blood, which can usually be detected within six to twelve weeks. They include HIV rapid tests, HIV self-tests and HIV laboratory tests.
If the HIV test is positive, the result has to be confirmed by a second, different test. Sometimes the test result is positive even though an HIV infection is not present.
There are also HIV tests that detect HIV directly. However, they are used predominantly to monitor the HIV therapy (see PCR test).
Where can I get tested for HIV?
There are various facilities where you can get tested for HIV.
- They include AIDS Service Organisations, checkpoints and public health departments, where you can get tested anonymously and also receive counselling. Depending on the facility, a fee of EUR 10 to 26 is charged.
- A self-testing kit allows you to test yourself for HIV at home. The result is shown after a few minutes. A self-testing kit costs about EUR 20.