An HIV infection can only be diagnosed through an HIV test, which involves testing the blood for antibodies of the HI virus. An HIV infection is not visible to the bare eye, and it cannot be diagnosed based on symptoms. We recommend getting tested always if you have had sex without a condom with an occasional partner or if you have shared needles for injecting drugs. Since an HIV test is reliable only three months after possible transmission, the person exposed to HIV must protect their sex partners by using a condom and lubricant when necessary before receiving the test results.
How does an HIV test work?
The HIV antibody test measures whether the body has produced antibodies of the HI virus. The speed of production of antibodies depends on one’s genes and the type of HI virus. The current tests show the antibodies of all people after three months from the possible risk situation, at the latest. We therefore recommend that an HIV test is taken 1-3 months from the possible risk situation.
HIV antibody tests are normally performed either on the vein blood from the arm or a blood drop from the fingertip. The most commonly used test in Finland is HIV AgAb. This type of test recognizes both the antigen and antibodies in the serum. The result of vein blood tests are developed within a week. The test on the blood from the fingertip can be conducted as a rapid test, which delivers the results in as little as 1 minute.
What does a negative test result mean?
A negative result means that no antibodies of the HI virus were found in the blood. In other words, if the test was done after 3 months of the risk situation, a negative result means that the tested person does not have HIV. If the risk situation was less than 3 months before the test, we suggest taking another test once 3 months have passed. This applies to all ways HIV can be tested in, whether you get tested from your fingertip, vein blood or by using a home test.
What does a positive test result mean?
In case the rapid test from the fingertip blood is positive, a vein blood test is taken in order to confirm the result. The results of the confirmation are delivered in about a week. An HIV infection diagnosis can be made only after the confirmation test. A positive test result may cause anxiety or fear. We recommend reaching out to a reliable place for support if needed, such as Hivpoint or the health care system.
The amounts of HI virus in a human’s bodily fluids are particularly high right after transmission, at which point the infection does not yet show in tests. It thus possible to transmit the disease without one’s knowledge at this stage. Before receiving the final results from the tests, it is important to use a condom, as well as lubricant if necessary, in all sexual contact.
Home testing of HIV
There are also home tests that can be bought online or in pharmacies. It is important to buy a CE marked test, which guarantees the quality of the test. Home tests should be available for purchase in Finnish pharmacies in 2018. Until then, it is possible to buy and order CE marked home tests from pharmacies in Europe, for example autotest VIH and BioSURE HIV Self Test are such tests. You can watch a video on how to use the Autotest VIH below.
What to consider when testing for HIV at home
Just as the other HIV tests, the home test is fully reliable only three months after the possible exposure to HIV. Remember, that even if the HIV test would be negative, you could have contracted another sexually transmitted infection (STI) when having unprotected sex, it is very important to get tested for those as well. Other STIs transmit much easier than HIV and you can have an STI even if you do not experience any symptoms.
We recommend that you do not take the HIV home test during weekends or holidays when counseling and support is not as widely available. It is important to take the test in a calm place with enough time, so that you have space to deal with emotions and thoughts that you may experience when reading the result. It would be good to consider whether you want to take the test by yourself or have someone there as support. Sometimes the result can be surprising and you might not want to share it with anyone. Everyone has the right to privacy when it comes to health.
Every positive result has to be confirmed through a vein blood test, therefore it is important that you contact a healthcare provider soon after receiving a positive result in the home test. The confirmation test can be taken at Hivpoint in Helsinki, Tampere and Oulu. Also other healthcare providers such as your health center and student or work healthcare take confirmation tests.
Getting a positive test result can be scary and cause panic, anxiety and fear. We encourage you to seek support from reliable sources, such as Hivpoint or other healthcare providers. We provide reliable information and advice related to the HIV home test at the Hivpoint counseling phone 020 465 705 (mon-thu at 10.00–15.30). You can also get support by calling the national crisis helpline 010 195 202 (mon-fri at 9.00-7.00, weekends and holidays at 15.00-07.00).
Please note that if you have had unprotected sex, it is also important to test other sexually transmitted infections. We recommend to wait a week after the risk situation, or three months in the case of hepatitis or HIV. Services within public health care are for the most part free of charge, and in some cases, treatments and medication as well.
An untreated STI always significantly increases the risk of HIV transmission. Read more about other STIs.