HIV testing Q&A

HIV testing determines if a person has HIV or not by detecting HIV antibodies in your blood or saliva. We all know how important it is to know your status to help end HIV transmissions, however many are still afraid which prevents them from testing. Early detection is the first step in maintaining a healthy life and preventing HIV transmission. Here are some common questions answered which I hope will make you feel more comfortable with your decision to test.

Why should I be tested for HIV?

Testing is the only way to confirm if you have HIV. You may be nervous about the results, but early detection has many benefits such as:

Early treatment provides years of healthy living.

Left untreated, HIV can cause life-threatening health problems.

Being tested can reduce the anxiety of not knowing your HIV status.

Protecting those you love e.g. your partner.

I am scared/worried about taking an HIV test.

It’s normal to worry whenever you take a test but knowing your status can ease your anxiety. (If you’re HIV negative, you can consider using preventive methods such as being initiated for PrEP). It’s also an opportunity for you to use this experience to become aware of your sexual health in the future.

Learning that you have tested HIV positive might be difficult to accept at first, but remember that you’re not alone. Take a deep breath and remind yourself that you can persevere through this. There any many support groups, people and organisations that will help you face the road ahead. The first step is to speak to your healthcare provider. Most people living with HIV live long, healthy and fulfilling lives due to advances in HIV treatments.

Should I stop taking treatment if my viral load is undectable?

Effective treatment lowers the level of HIV (the viral load) in the blood. When the levels are low, this is referred to as an undetectable viral load (

Do I need to test if my partner tested negative?

You can’t use your partner’s test results to interpret your status. You can only know if you have HIV by taking your own test.

What is the window period?

This is the time between an exposure incident and when HIV antibodies can be detected. The average window period length is 2-8 weeks, although some people take longer to develop antibodies.

The window period is important because HIV viral load is usually high during the first several weeks and months of infection, and there is an increased risk of transmitting HIV.

Patients who receive a positive HIV diagnosis during the window period will be referred to follow-up care and treatment, which can improve their health.

What if my first test is positive and the second test is negative?

It could be that the first test was a false positive. Tests are not meant to react to other types of antibodies, but it sometimes happens. HIV tests are based on the detection of antibodies to HIV. The cause of false-positive results could be that the test has detected antibodies to another substance or infection. Usually, the second test will be the accurate result, however I strongly suggest that you speak to your healthcare provider.

If I test once, do I have to test again?

The best way to take charge of your sexual health and wellbeing is to test regularly (every 3 months if you are sexually active and have multiple partners). You should also test if you experience any symptoms of HIV 2-6 weeks after having unprotected sex;

Flu-like symptoms

Fever or rashes

Aching limbs

Sore throat

Ulcers in the mouth or genitals


Severe headaches

Even if you have been practising safe sex or in a committed relationship, it is still recommended to test on a regular basis.

Most testing sites provide HIV and AIDS counselling, where counsellors privately discuss HIV, risky behaviour, and ways to protect yourself. Counsellors also discuss test results and offer support. Knowing your status is important not only to protect you but also others. If you have any other questions, type them out in the comments below

If you or a friend need advice or help, you can contact me here on Ask Choma, send a Facebook message or a Twitter DM, or a WhatsApp Message (071 172 3657).