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HIV testing technologies

Roger Pebody

Increasing the uptake of HIV testing in order to reduce rates of undiagnosed infection and late diagnosis is a key goal of the HIV Prevention England programme. Many non-clinical services are now involved in providing or promoting HIV testing services. In order to accurately explain the benefits of HIV testing to clients, workers need to know what kind of test is being offered and how accurate it is, especially in the context of recent infection.

Thanks to Alan McOwan (56 Dean Street), Sam Moses (Public Health England), Anthony Nardone (Public Health England), Roger Tatoud (Imperial College London), Cary James (Terrence Higgins Trust) and Aidan Collins (HIV Scotland) for advice and feedback.

This briefing paper, produced by NAM for HIV Prevention England, provides an overview of HIV diagnostic tests for people planning, commissioning or providing HIV prevention activities in England.

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  • What would an ideal test be like?

    A set of criteria are commonly used to evaluate the appropriateness of using a medical test, particularly when it is offered to people who feel well. Firstly,...

  • Antibody laboratory tests

    The HIV tests that were most commonly used in the past tested for HIV antibodies only. A blood sample is taken through a needle from a vein...

  • Antibody/antigen laboratory tests

    Antibody only laboratory tests are no longer recommended for routine use in the UK. UK guidelines recommend the use of tests which detect both HIV antibodies and p24...

  • Self-sampling

    Some charities, sexual health clinics and private companies offer self-sampling services for HIV testing (for example, Terrence Higgins Trust, 56 Dean Street and Dr Thom). These generally involve the end-user...

  • Rapid, point-of-care tests

    From the point of view of a hospital doctor, the laboratory tests previously described have considerable advantages. They give exceptionally accurate results, processes are automated and quality...

  • Antibody point-of-care tests

    A wide range of point-of-care tests have been manufactured in many countries, but only a few of them have been subject to rigorous, independent evaluations, and even...

  • Self-testing

    Self-testing is often referred to as “home-testing” and involves the end-user carrying out all test procedures. Whereas it used to be illegal to sell or advertise HIV...

  • Antibody/antigen point-of-care test

    Introduced in 2009, the Determine HIV-1/2 Ag/Ab Combo test looks for both antibodies and p24 antigen, in a similar way to antibody/antigen laboratory tests. At the time...

  • Table: Summary of types of tests

      Laboratory tests Rapid, point-of-care tests ...

  • Common questions about testing

    How soon after taking a risk can I test? Most clinics advise people who have recently taken a risk to test immediately, and believe that it is unhelpful...

  • Recent infection testing algorithm (RITA)

    Individuals who are newly diagnosed with HIV may also have their blood tested by the RITA method. This is a laboratory technique which aims to distinguish between...

  • Key points

    UK guidelines recommend the use of combined antibody/antigen laboratory tests. Antibody-only tests are no longer recommended.Combined antibody/antigen laboratory tests are exceptionally accurate and usually able to detect infection...

  • Further reading

    Pebody R HIV testing,, 2012. Griffith BP et al. Human Immunodeficiency Viruses. In Versalovic (ed.), Manual of Clinical Microbiology, 10th edition, Washington DC, ASM Press, 2011. Malarelli F Diagnosis of...

HIV testing technologies

Published December 2014

Last reviewed December 2014

Next review December 2017

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.
Community Consensus Statement on Access to HIV Treatment and its Use for Prevention

Together, we can make it happen

We can end HIV soon if people have equal access to HIV drugs as treatment and as PrEP, and have free choice over whether to take them.

Launched today, the Community Consensus Statement is a basic set of principles aimed at making sure that happens.

The Community Consensus Statement is a joint initiative of AVAC, EATG, MSMGF, GNP+, HIV i-Base, the International HIV/AIDS Alliance, ITPC and NAM/aidsmap

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.

NAM’s information is intended to support, rather than replace, consultation with a healthcare professional. Talk to your doctor or another member of your healthcare team for advice tailored to your situation.