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What do HIV test results mean?

for Veterans and the Public

What do test results mean?

To understand what your test results mean, you first have to understand what a "window period" is.

The window period is the time it takes for your body to produce HIV antibodies after you have been infected by the virus. In most people, this period is between 2 and 12 weeks. In a very small number of people, the process takes up to 6 months.

During the window period, you might be infected with HIV yet still test HIV-negative. Here's how that can happen. Let's say you have unprotected sex on Saturday night and become infected with HIV. On Monday, you get an HIV test. The test almost certainly will come back negative, because your body has not yet had a chance to make antibodies, which are what the HIV test is looking for.

Even if you go for an HIV test 1 or 2 months later, your results might be negative because your body still has not produced antibodies. It may take 3 months after exposure for the test results to be 97% accurate, and 6 months to be absolutely certain. If you think you have been exposed to HIV, and your test results are negative, be sure to get retested in 3 to 6 months--just to be sure.

Pop question: True or false. You can be infected with HIV and still get negative test results.

Answer: TRUE. You can be infected with HIV and still get negative test results. After you get infected, it can take your body up to 6 months to produce antibodies to HIV, which is what the HIV test is looking for.