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Louisiana Department of Health & Hospitals | Kathy Kliebert, Secretary

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HIV Antibody Test

How Does HIV Testing Work?

In the early stages of HIV infection, the virus itself is difficult to detect. Rather than looking for the virus, HIV testing usually involves looking at the body's reaction to the presence of the virus. The measure of the amount of virus in an individual's blood stream is called the viral load.

Antibodies are produced by the body in reaction to the presence of a virus.  An HIV antibody test measures the presence of antibodies in response to the presence of HIV. The most common HIV antibody tests are ELISA (EIA) and Western Blot. These tests can now be performed on samples of oral (mouth) fluid.

What do HIV Test Results Mean?

If an HIV antibody test is negative, no antibodies were detected. A negative test can indicate that a person is not infected with HIV (s/he is HIV negative), or that s/he has been exposed but their immune system has not had time to produce antibodies. Antibodies to HIV may take up to six months to develop after the initial exposure.

A positive HIV antibody test means that the body has been exposed to HIV (and the body has produced antibodies in response to this exposure).  A person with a positive HIV test will need to have further testing done to confirm this diagnosis. When a person has a positive HIV test, it does not mean that the person has AIDS or that the person will have AIDS in a certain amount of time--it only means that the person is infected with HIV.

What is Rapid HIV Testing?

There are now many tests available which can detect HIV antibodies within a few minutes.  Examples of rapid tests include OraQuick, which can detect antibodies in 20 minutes and is the only rapid test that can use oral fluid, and INSTI, which can detect antibodies in under a minute.  Other rapid tests are available as well.  The technology involved in rapid testing is quite advanced and for any of the various tests, the results are over 99% accurate.

Most community-based organizations who conduct HIV testing in Louisiana follow a rapid-rapid testing model.  This means that you will have a rapid test done during your visit and then, if that test is positive, you will have a second test done to verify your result.  If both results are positive, you will be offered a referral to medical care.  In the very rare event that the second test is negative, your counselor will advise you about next steps.