What does ‘reactive’ mean when testing for HIV?

A close-up of a glass receptacle which contains a testing vial. This vial is labelled as being ready to receive blood for an HIV test. The image has a pink and purple filter over it. The image has a pink and purple filter over it.

If you have been tested for HIV infection, you may be told that the result is ‘reactive’. While this is sometimes described as a ‘positive’ result, it could be a false positive. The result indicates that the test has reacted to something in your blood and this should be investigated further.

It does not necessarily mean that you are HIV positive. Because false positives can happen, doctors never use a single test to give an HIV-positive diagnosis. If the result is reactive, the result is only preliminary and must be verified with a series of confirmatory tests.

These follow-up tests are best done by a healthcare professional who has access to the most accurate HIV testing technologies.

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