At-home HIV Testing - What You Need to Know and How to Do It

Key Takeaways

  • There are two types of HIV testing options for Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved HIV self-testing kits - A rapid self-test and a mail-in self-test.
  • Although home test kits are convenient, they are not as accurate as an at-home HIV blood test, particularly ones that use oral fluid samples.
  • False negative test results vary depending on which blood test you take and the window period can be anywhere between 18 and 45 days. 
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that you have regular HIV screening if you are at high-risk of becoming infected.

Exposure to HIV can be a stressful and worrying time. That’s why one of the best things to do is get an HIV blood test so you can determine the best course of action for your health. Fortunately, HIV tests are able to detect the presence of the virus in your bloodstream within a relatively short time after infection. If privacy is a concern, then at-home HIV blood tests are also available that will enable you to take your test from the comfort of your own home.

There are three main types of HIV blood tests, though some are more suitable for screening people who have had recent exposure to HIV or have early symptoms of infection. In this article, we will review at-home HIV tests, how to get one and how they work.

What Is an At-home HIV Test?

If you suspect that you may have become infected with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), you should take a test as soon as possible, because HIV can lead to AIDS. There are three main types of HIV blood tests. These are:

  • HIV antibody: If you have been infected with HIV, your body will produce antibodies to fight the infection. This test checks for HIV antibodies in your blood. The antibody test can determine if you are HIV positive from 3-12 weeks after you have been infected.
  • HIV antibody/antigen: An antigen is the part of a virus that triggers your immune response. As well as checking for antibodies in your blood, this test also looks for antigens. This type of test can detect HIV within 2-6 weeks after you have been infected.
  • HIV viral load test: A viral load test measures the amount of HIV that is present in your blood. This is the best of the three tests for early detection as it detects HIV faster than the other two.

Should I Get an At-home HIV Test?

HIV is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) can be transmitted through unprotected vaginal or anal sex and by sharing drug injection equipment. You should take an at-home HIV test after talking to your doctor if you think you have been exposed to or infected by HIV or you are experiencing the following symptoms:

  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Aching muscles and joints
  • Sore throat
  • Skin rash
  • Diarrhea
  • Weight loss
  • Swollen lymph glands in the neck
  • Night sweats
  • Cough
  • Sores on your genitals, anus, or in your mouth

People who have become infected often experience flu-like symptoms within 2-4 weeks.

Is an At-home HIV Blood Test Better Than a HIV Test Kit?

There are two types of HIV testing options for Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved HIV self-testing kits:

  • A rapid self-test: This is done at home with a swab to take a saliva sample and will typically produce results within 20 minutes.
  • A mail-in self-test: This at-home test collects a sample of dried blood from a fingerstick. The sample is then mailed to a lab. You will be notified when the results are ready.

Although home test kits are convenient, they are not as accurate as an at-home HIV blood test, particularly ones that use oral fluid samples. Because an HIV blood test produces more accurate results, it allows your healthcare professional to determine your HIV status — how far along the HIV infection might be.

How Do I Get an HIV Home Test

You can purchase an at-home HIV test at your local pharmacy or online. But if you decide to take a more accurate test, you can also have the sample of blood taken in the privacy of your home by using a mobile phlebotomist such as Getlabs.

When you choose a mobile lab, a phlebotomist will come to your home and take your blood sample. They will then take the sample to a local lab where it will be analyzed. You will receive your results within 2-3 days. Having your at-home HIV test with a mobile lab like Getlabs is completely safe, friendly, and confidential. What’s more, you can easily book an appointment online.

What Should I Do Before My HIV Test?

Check with your doctor before your home HIV test to see if they say any prep is needed. Typically, no special preparation is needed for this type of test. However, if you are having other tests at the same time, such as a comprehensive metabolic panel (CMP), you may need to fast before your test.

What Should I Do During My HIV Test?

Before your HIV test, your phlebotomist will confirm your identification and ask a few questions about your medical history and your current health. Once you are sitting comfortably, they will sterilize your arm with an antibacterial wipe before taking your sample.

Usually, your phlebotomist will tie a tourniquet around your upper arm to make finding a vein easier. They will then insert a very fine needle into your vein and attach a test tube to collect the blood sample. You should relax and breathe calmly while the sample is being taken.

Once the blood has been collected, your phlebotomist will apply slight pressure to the needle site and then apply a small dressing. The test takes less than five minutes. If you have any of the following symptoms after your blood test, you should contact your doctor as soon as possible:

  • Dizziness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Nausea
  • Swelling or pain at the needle site
  • Signs of infection at the needle site

When Can I Expect My HIV Test Results?

Typically, you can expect your HIV tests results within 2-3 days depending on the lab. Your doctor will contact you or post your results on your laboratory's patient portal. You may require a follow-up appointment to take a second HIV test to confirm your results.

What Do HIV Positive Results Mean?

If you have a positive HIV test result, this means that the test found the presence of HIV in your blood. However, HIV-positive status is only confirmed after a second test. Additional testing helps to ensure that the test is correct and to eliminate a false-positive result. Although a false positive result is rare, it can happen because of issues in the laboratory where the test was analyzed, such as improper handling or a mix-up with blood samples. False positives may also sometimes occur if you have certain health conditions such as an autoimmune disease.

What Do HIV Negative Results Mean?

Unfortunately, getting a negative HIV test result does not always mean that you do not have HIV. This is because of the window period. The window period refers to the period of time from initial infection and during the period of time when levels of antibodies and antigens are still too low to be detectable.

The window period varies depending on which type of blood test you take and can be anywhere between 18 and 45 days. If you take a HIV test during the window period, it could produce a false negative. If you do a follow-up test after the window period and your test result is still negative, then you do not have HIV.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that you have regular HIV screening if you are at high-risk of becoming infected. For example if you have multiple sexual partners or if your partner is HIV positive, or if you use drugs with needles or have hepatitis. Using protection during sex is the best method of HIV prevention.

Get At-home HIV Testing with Getlabs

Exposure to HIV can be stressful and worrisome. Scheduling an at-home HIV test as soon as you’ve been exposed will help you get answers sooner rather than later. In less than five minutes, you can book an in-home appointment with a phlebotomist near you who will then deliver your sample to a local Labcorp or Quest laboratory. We are dedicated to providing safe, friendly, and confidential mobile sampling services.

If you want to learn more about Getlabs, visit www.getlabs.com/faq to learn more.

This page is provided for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute the provision of medical advice or professional services. The information provided should not be used for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, and those seeking personal medical advice regarding any of the tests and conditions referenced above are advised to consult with a licensed clinician. Always seek the advice of your qualified health provider regarding a medical condition and do not disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of any information on this page. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call 911 or go to the nearest urgent care center or hospital.

Book an at-home lab collection

Getlabs sends a nearby medical specialist to you to collect your labs for Labcorp and Quest. Available same-day, nationwide.

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