Q&A: HIV Testing: How Soon Is Too Soon?

QUESTION: How long after possible exposure to HIV should one wait before being tested? I had unprotected sex and then got tested 5 weeks later. It came back negative. Was that too soon?

Yes and no. It was great that you got tested for HIV after having unprotected sex without a condom and, in fact, many people who acquire HIV will indeed test positive within a month of exposure.

3 Months Or More

However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – also called the CDC – points out that some people may take longer to produce sufficient antibodies to the HIV virus and thus produce a positive result, if they are infected with HIV.

As such, many healthcare providers would suggest getting another HIV test 3 or more months after unprotected sex. This is because most people who have HIV will test positive 3 months after infection.

Different Types of HIV Tests

As you may know, there are different types of HIV tests. The most common HIV tests are those that test for antibodies to the HIV virus. These tests are usually conducted using a sample’s of a person’s blood or even a sample of their mouth fluid, which is different from saliva.

Depending on what types of HIV tests are available at clinics or testing sites near you, it is possible to have test results back in as little as 15 or 20 minutes or as long as about 2 weeks after testing.

HIV Testing Options

To learn more about testing options in your area, visit the NHS site here. You can also learn more at the NHS’s HIV testing and information website.

At this writing, CDC recommendations for HIV testing vary based on a person’s risk, so you should talk to your healthcare provider if you have questions about how often you should get tested for HIV or other sexually transmissible infections, also called STIs, such as Chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis and others.

Since you had unprotected sex, you may be at risk for STIs other than HIV and it would be wise to ask your healthcare provider about getting tested for other STIs or how to more generally reduce your STI risk.

Reduce STI Risk

Women and men, both, can reduce their risk for STIs – including HIV – by abstaining from oral, vaginal and anal sex or, if they are sexually active, by limiting their number of sexual partners, communicating with their partners about their history of STI history and diagnosis, and using a condom for all acts of oral, vaginal and anal sex. To learn more about HIV and STIs, visit our sexual health and STI resource pages or the website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.