HIV testing

Roger Pebody

Current approaches to HIV testing are to make it a normal rather than exceptional medical event, for it to be offered in a wide range of settings, and to use newer technologies that are more effective in identifying recent infections than previous techniques.

These developments may have a number of advantages. The most important will be to allow more people who are living with HIV, but unaware of the fact, to have the benefit of appropriate treatment, care and support.

Effective antiretroviral treatment means that most people living with HIV in the UK can lead long, healthy and active lives. However, the benefits of treatment are greatest for those who start treatment promptly, and over half of new HIV diagnoses are currently in people whose CD4 count has already dropped below 350 cells/mm3, the stage at which starting HIV treatment is recommended.

Early diagnosis also gives people a chance to reduce their risk of transmitting the virus to others.

For people who find out that they are HIV negative, testing also has advantages in terms of certainty and peace of mind. In stable relationships, testing HIV negative can allow partners to make more informed decisions about sexual risks.

As testing technologies change and more people take HIV tests, the following sections aim to clarify which tests are used, how accurate they are, how their results should be interpreted and when testing is appropriate. Later sections also address issues that may be of concern to people testing, including where to test, consent, confidentiality and implications for employment and insurance.

This content was checked for accuracy at the time it was written. It may have been superseded by more recent developments. NAM recommends checking whether this is the most current information when making decisions that may affect your health.