Different kinds of HIV tests

There are a few different kinds of HIV tests.

How do you test for HIV? There are a few different kinds of HIV tests to know about:

  • Standard testing is when they take some blood from your arm and send it to a lab to get tested. Test tubesThe testing lab in Ontario uses a test that can detect HIV as early as two to three weeks after infection in some people. The test looks for things called “antibodies” to HIV, which are molecules the body produces in response to HIV infection, and also looks for a tiny bit of the virus called an “antigen.” In most cases, you will get your results in three or four days.
  • Rapid testing, also known as Point of Care Testing, is when they prick your finger and test your blood while you wait for a few minutes to get the results right there. This test only looks for antibodies to HIV, not the virus itself. If your rapid test is reactive, they will do standard testing. If it’s negative, and you’re testing for an incident that happened 3 months ago, then you don’t need to test for that incident again. Rapid tests are shown to detect HIV as early as 3 weeks after infection.
  • There is also nominal and non-nominal testing. A nominal test result can be linked back to you through your name. Non-nominal testing is when a doctor sends a sample to the lab with some other marker, such as a birthday, so that they can link it to your medical file at their office without sharing your identity with the lab.
  • Anonymous testing is available at only 50 regulated locations in Ontario. With anonymous testing they won’t ask for any personal information, so your test result won’t be linked back to you. Only specially designated anonymous clinics provide anonymous testing – you can’t get it at your doctor’s office or your average walk-in clinic. For more info on where these sites are located, call the AIDS and Sexual Health Info Line at: 1-800-668-2437.

There’s a “window period” between the moment HIV transmission happens and when it will show up on an HIV test. This is based on the level of virus in your body and antibodies to the virus that become detectable over time. In most people, HIV can be detected as early as 2-3 weeks after transmission. In others it can take up to 3 months after somebody acquired HIV for tests to show a positive result, so talk about the window period with the person giving you the test.