This week marks European HIV Testing Week, during which charities and other organisations join forces to raise awareness and encourage more people to find out their HIV status.
You can find a wealth of information and options about how to get tested – or test yourself – for HIV as well as loads of facts and myth-busting stories from the National AIDS Trust.
If you’re worried about taking a test, you’ll find a few good reasons to have one here, but to get you up to speed on HIV tests, here’s our guide to the various HIV testing options available in the UK.
Option 1. Tests in a sexual health centre
If you would like to be tested for HIV at a GUM clinic or sexual health centre there are two ways you could do this:
1. By sending a blood sample off to a laboratory for testing or
2. By rapid point of care testing, which usually involves a finger prick blood sample and gives you your result while you wait
The lab can test for multiple conditions from the same blood sample and your results, which can be delivered in writing, by text or by phone, can take anywhere from four hours to ten days, depending on where the clinic is located and their particular policy.
Rapid point of care tests provide an accurate diagnosis while you are present in clinic and take between 5-20 minutes. This means you can find out your result really quickly and there are people there that can talk you through the results and give you loads of advice and support if you’d like it.
If you’d like to see a healthcare professional for a test, but don’t want to visit a medical centre, there are lots of regular pop-up HIV testing clinics in bars and clubs especially in Manchester and London.
Option 2. Home sampling / HIV postal tests
You can buy home sampling kits from a number of websites - such as Freedoms Shop. HIV home sampling has been legal in the UK since the early 1990's. If it’s a free service you’ll be asked some questions to check eligibility or alternatively you can pay for the test. The kit is sent to your nominated address in the post and the test requires a small vial of blood which you collect yourself at home.
- Soak your hands in warm water to increase blood flow
- Use one or more safety lancets to make a small cut(s) in your finger(s)
- Massage you fingers downwards to drip blood into the collection tube until it's filled (about 600ul, but some require a larger volume).
- Post your sample to a laboratory where the test is carried out.
- Results are communicated in 4 to 7 days
These tests can usually detect HIV from about 28 days after the exposure incident. If your result is negative you will receive a text message and if the result is positive it will be delivered by phone with the person calling being able to advise you where to access a confirmatory test, advice, support and treatment.
Option 3. Self testing
Self-testing allows you to perform the entire test yourself and receive the results within 15 minutes.
- Order the HIV self testing kit online and it is discretely sent to an address of your choice in the post.
- Using a safety lancet make a tiny cut in one of your fingers, producing just one drop of blood.
- Touch the tip of the HIV self testing device onto the drop of blood and it draws up the right amount to test (2.5ul, 240th of the sample required for Home Sampling).
- Insert the top of the device into a pot of buffer solution and leave it standing upright to run.
- After 15 minutes you will be able to read your own test result, there and then.
If your result is positive, as with all HIV tests, you must have a confirmatory test (most likely one of the clinical tests outlined above) You can search for your nearest sexual health clinic here, call NHS 111 or contact an HIV organisation such as Positive UK.
The BioSURE HIV Self Test is more than 99.7% accurate from three months after HIV infection and comes with signposting information of how to access confirmatory testing and advice if your test result is positive, or how to stay negative if a negative result is obtained.
If you are going to self test for HIV, it’s sensible to think beforehand about how you will feel about your result and whether you would like to be alone or have someone with you. Sometimes it can be helpful to discuss testing and how you feel with a friend, partner or family member.
The important thing to remember is that having various options gives you much more control over your decisions, so there is an HIV testing solution available for everyone in the most comfortable, appropriate way for them. We can’t tell you what test to take this HIV Testing Week – but we can advise you to GET TESTED!
There are still some unregulated self-testing kits that continue to be available illegally from internet retailers. They say the kits are CE marked, but at best they are designed and certified for ‘Professional Use Only’. These kits do not meet European standards for HIV self testing. They have been designed for use only by experienced medical professionals who have been trained how to use the test and they can be very difficult for untrained people to use correctly.