How is human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) diagnosed?

A blood or saliva test for antibodies can be carried out in your doctor's office. However, it can take a few weeks to up to three months from the time of your exposure to the virus before antibodies build up and a test can be considered reliable. If the test is positive, a Western blot test will be performed. It is more accurate and can rule out any false positives.

HIV is diagnosed with a blood test. If you have recently contracted the virus, your test may not be positive in the first few months. Therefore, your should have a repeat test if concerned in another 3 to 6 months.

Diagnosis is done based on lab tests. The most common lab test is the Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbant Assay (ELISA). ELISA tests for antibodies the person's body has built up against HIV. If a person tests positive with the ELISA, another test, called the Western Blot is done. The Western Blot tests for antibodies against several parts of the virus.

Sometimes these tests come back inconclusive. If this happens, a viral load may be done to determine if copies of the virus exist in the body.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.