Why Testing Negative for HIV Might still be Scary

Why Testing Negative for HIV Might still be Scary
February 27, 2023 Editorial Reszon

According to CDC, an estimated 1.2 million people in the United States have HIV, including about 158,500 people who are unaware of their status. Nearly 40% of new HIV infections are transmitted by people who don’t know they have the virus. For people with undiagnosed HIV, testing is the first step in maintaining a healthy life and preventing HIV transmission.

If a person tested negative for HIV but is still scared, they may have taken the test within the window period. The “window period” refers to the time between when a person has been infected with HIV and when the infection can be accurately detected by the HIV test kit.

If a person tests negative for HIV during the window period, it is possible that they are still infected with the virus and that the test result was a false negative. This can be a source of anxiety and uncertainty due to:

  • Unsure if they are truly HIV-negative
  • Fear of future exposure
  • Stigma and discrimination
  • Guilt and shame
  • Lack of trust in the healthcare system

HIV Tests for Screening and Diagnosis

HIV tests are very accurate, but no test can detect the virus immediately after infection. How soon a test can detect HIV depends on the type of test being used. There are three types of HIV tests: antibody tests, antigen/antibody tests, and nucleic acid tests (NAT).

  • Antibody tests: These detect antibodies to HIV in someone’s blood or oral fluid. Antibodies are substances the immune system produces in response to virus exposure. The antibody tests have a window of 23–90 days.
  • Antigen or antibody tests: These detect an antigen that HIV produces and the antibodies the immune system produces in response to the virus. The tests have a window of 18–45 days with blood that a technician draws from a vein. However, the window is 18–90 days in the rapid version of the tests, which involves blood from a finger prick.
  • Nucleic acid tests: These tests detect HIV in the blood and have a window of 10–33 days.

To confirm negative results, a doctor tests a person again after the window period for that test. It is also important for individuals to practice safer sex and other harm-reduction strategies to reduce their risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, even if they have tested negative for HIV.

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1. Mary West (2023) Why might testing negative for HIV still be scary. Medical News Today. Access on 24 Feb 2023

2. HIV Testing CDC (2022) Accessed on 24 Feb 2023