HIV Testing

  • Medical Author:
    Mary D. Nettleman, MD, MS, MACP

    Mary D. Nettleman, MD, MS, MACP is the Chair of the Department of Medicine at Michigan State University. She is a graduate of Vanderbilt Medical School, and completed her residency in Internal Medicine and a fellowship in Infectious Diseases at Indiana University.

  • Medical Author: Daniel Havlichek, MD
  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

View HIV AIDS Myths and Facts Slideshow Pictures

Quick GuideHIV AIDS Pictures Slideshow: Myths and Facts on Symptoms and Treatments

HIV AIDS Pictures Slideshow: Myths and Facts on Symptoms and Treatments

How accurate is an HIV test? What is the window period for an HIV test?

The current testing protocols are highly accurate but not perfect. The probability of a false result on the test depends on the test and on the likelihood that the person is infected.

Falsely negative tests occur in people who are truly infected with HIV but have negative tests. Among 1,000 people who are truly infected, rapid tests will be falsely negative in zero to six people, depending on the test. Negative antibody tests in people infected with HIV may occur because antibody concentrations are low or because antibodies have not yet developed. On average, antibodies take about four weeks to reach detectable levels after initial infection, and falsely negative tests may occur during this so-called HIV window period. Individuals with negative tests and who had high risk for HIV exposure should be retested in two to three months.

Falsely positive tests occur when uninfected people have positive tests. Among 1,000 people who do not have disease, rapid tests will be falsely positive in zero to nine people, depending on the test. This is the main reason for not relying on a single positive test for diagnosis. As discussed above, all positive initial tests must be confirmed with a Western blot. When both tests are positive, the likelihood of a person being HIV infected is >99%. Sometimes, the Western blot may be indeterminate, meaning that it is neither positive nor negative. In these cases, the tests are usually repeated at a later date or an RNA test is done.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/23/2016

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