HIV tests are very accurate. Modern tests can tell if you’ve been infected with HIV very soon after exposure to the virus.
If you think you may be at risk of contracting HIV, it’s very important to get it diagnosed. This will give you the best chance of getting the treatment, care and support you need to stay well.
Being diagnosed with HIV today is very different to 20 or 30 years ago. HIV is no longer a death sentence.
However, people’s attitudes can make living with HIV really difficult. It’s time to end HIV stigma.
The window period
Be aware of the ‘window period’ – this is the time after exposure to HIV infection where the virus is present but may not be detected by the test. This is known as a ‘false negative’ result.
If a HIV test is performed during this ‘window period’, a person who has recently become infected with HIV may receive a ‘false negative’ result. Because of this, the person may need to be re-tested.
The ‘window period’ can vary and can last up to three months. Until you have been tested after the recommended time has passed, it’s important to avoid any activities that can transmit HIV.
The main routes of HIV transmission remain:
- unprotected penetrative sex
- infected blood, for example from sharing needles to inject drugs
- mother to baby transmission through pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding
Staff at your genito-urinary medicine (GUM) clinic will explain all aspects of HIV testing. There are ways to help protect your sexual health. By reducing the risks, you can protect yourself and others, now and in the future.
Find out more on the Sexual Heath Northern Ireland website.
Where can I get a HIV test?
HIV tests are available in sexual health clinics, doctor’s surgeries or private clinics. You may also be offered a HIV test as part of care for another health matter, such as maternity care, or as part of a sexual health checkup.
In Northern Ireland, you can get a free and confidential HIV test at any GUM clinic. These clinics are linked to specialist HIV services and there will be support available if your result is positive.
Find out more about our HIV service.
In Northern Ireland, you can attend any GUM department. These clinics are located at:
- Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast
- Causeway Hospital, Coleraine
- Altnagelvin Hospital, Derry
- Daisy Hill Hospital, Newry
- Downe Hospital, Downpatrick
- Omagh Hospital and Primary Care Complex, Omagh
Using a free HIV testing service in a non-clinical setting
Rapid HIV testing is available at:
Carrying out the HIV test yourself
Self-testing HIV kits are also available but you will usually have to pay for one. We would encourage those who test ‘reactive’ for HIV to ensure they seek both medical and emotional support as soon as possible.
A ‘reactive’ or positive self-test result does not mean you definitely have HIV. A ‘false positive’ result can occur.
All positive self-test results need to be confirmed by a HIV test performed by a health professional.