HIV and AIDS
NHS Choices - HIV testing
Many people living with HIV have no signs and symptoms at all.
People who have recently been infected with HIV often experience a short, flu-like illness two to six weeks after infection. Symptoms include fever, sore throat, and body rash. See symptoms of HIV for more information.
You can only be certain you have HIV if you have an HIV test.
If you think you might be at risk, you should have a test immediately. The earlier HIV is detected, the more likely it is that treatment will be successful.
If you do have HIV, delaying treatment will allow the virus to spread in your system and damage your health.
The sooner you get tested, the sooner you can start life-saving treatment and avoid spreading the virus to someone else.
HIV testing is available on the NHS free of charge to anyone. Some clinics can provide test results on the same day the test is taken.
The most common form of HIV test is a blood test, in which a small amount of blood is taken and examined.
In some areas, saliva tests are available. In this test, a sample of saliva is taken using a mouth swab. In some areas dried blood spot tests are available, in which the finger or heel is pricked and a spot of blood is blotted onto filter paper.
It can take between three weeks and three months after you have been infected with HIV for the virus to show up in testing.
If your most recent risk of getting HIV was within the last three months you can test straight away, but you will be advised to have another one a few weeks later.
If the test finds no signs of infection, then your test result is “negative”. If the HIV virus has been found in your blood then the test result is “positive”.
Before someone is given a positive result the blood is tested several times to be completely sure.
If you test positive for HIV, you will undergo a number of tests to monitor the progress of the infection to work out when HIV treatment should be started.
Find out more about treating HIV.
Where to get tested
There are various places to go for an HIV blood test, such as:
- sexual health clinics, also called genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinics
- clinics run by the Terrence Higgins Trust
- some GP surgeries
- some contraception and young people’s clinics
- local drugs agencies
- at an antenatal clinic, if you are pregnant
- a private clinic, where you will have to pay
It is your choice where you would be most comfortable having the test.
Find your local sexual health services.