How long after a possible exposure should I be tested for HIV?

If you think you have been exposed to HIV, please find a place to get a free, confidential HIV test right away. It may be appropriate for you to start medication immediately (learn more about post-exposure prophylaxis). A trained test counselor will help assess your risk and figure out the right time and type of test to use.

The time it takes for a person who has been infected with HIV to show a positive test result (also known as seroconverting) is called the "window period." There are different types of HIV tests, and each type has a different window period. We have a more in depth article about HIV test window periods. Ask your local HIV organization or medical provider what type of test they are offering—they will be able to give you more information about how long it might take for a person with HIV to test positive with the test they are using.

What does this mean for you?

Any time that you have reason to think you've been directly exposed to HIV, you should consult with your doctor or a trained HIV test counselor as soon as possible. The sooner you address the possibility of being infected, the better for you and your future sexual partners.

If you test negative on an HIV RNA test after two weeks of possibly being exposed, you are very likely HIV-negative. If you test negative on a 4th generation rapid test or lab assay that detects HIV antigens (part of the HIV virus) in addition to antibodies after three or four weeks after possibly being infected, you are very likely HIV-negative. And if you test negative on an antibody test taken 3 months or longer after your last possible risk of possible exposure to HIV, you are likely HIV-negative. The person who gives you your HIV test will have additional information about the test's "window period."

For this reason, we recommend that people who are having sex get tested routinely every 3 months. Routine testing is painless and ensures that if you do get infected, you can start treatment right away. See our article on BETA explaining the importance of starting treatment as early as possible.

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