An HIV test shows whether you are infected with HIV (human immunodeficiency virus). HIV is a virus that attacks and destroys cells in the immune system . These cells protect your body against disease-causing germs, such as bacteria and viruses. If you lose too many immune cells, your body will have trouble fighting off infections and other diseases.
There are three main types of HIV tests:
- Antibody Test. This test looks for HIV antibodies in your blood or saliva. Your immune system makes antibodies when you are exposed to bacteria or viruses, like HIV. An HIV antibody test can determine if you have HIV from 3–12 weeks after infection. That's because it can take a few weeks or longer for your immune system to make antibodies to HIV. You may be able to do an HIV antibody test in the privacy of your home. Ask your health care provider about at-home HIV test kits.
- HIV Antibody/Antigen Test. This test looks for HIV antibodies and antigens in the blood. An antigen is a part of a virus that triggers an immune response. If you've been exposed to HIV, antigens will show up in your blood before HIV antibodies are made. This test can usually find HIV within 2–6 weeks of infection. The HIV antibody/antigen test is one of the most common types of HIV tests.
- HIV Viral Load . This test measures the amount of the HIV virus in the blood. It can find HIV faster than antibody and antibody/antigen tests, but it is very expensive. It is mostly used for monitoring HIV infections.
Other names: HIV antibody/antigen tests, HIV-1 and HIV-2 antibody and antigen evaluation, HIV test, human immunodeficiency virus antibody test, type 1, HIV p24 antigen test