There are 4 main types of HIV test:
- Point of care test – a saliva sample or a small spot of blood from your finger is taken in a (sexual health) clinic. This sample doesn't need to be sent to a laboratory and the result is available within a few minutes.
- Blood test – a blood sample is taken in a (sexual health) clinic and sent for testing in a laboratory. Results are usually available on the same day or within a few days.
- Home sampling kit –a saliva sample or small spot of blood at home and send it off in the post for testing. You'll be contacted by phone or text with your result in a few days. Visit test.hiv to check if you're eligible for a free test. If not, you can buy them online or from some pharmacies.
- Home testing kit – a saliva sample or small spot of blood yourself and test it at home. The result is available within minutes. It's important to check that any test you buy has a CE quality assurance mark and is licensed for sale in the UK, as HIV self-tests available from overseas can be poor quality
If the test finds no sign of infection, your result is "negative". If signs of infection are found, the result is "positive". The blood test is the most accurate test and can normally give reliable results from 1 month after infection. The other tests tend to be less accurate and may not give a reliable result for a longer period after exposure to the infection. This is known as the window period. For all these tests, a blood test should be carried out to confirm the result if the first test is positive. If this test is also positive, you'll be referred to a specialist HIV clinic for some more tests and a discussion about your treatment options.
A positive test result
One of the drawbacks of self/ home testing kits is that you may be alone if the test comes back positive. While some people may take this in their stride, others may feel understandably stressed and worried. You may wish to think about where and when you do the test so that you can find support you need quickly, should you need it. Everyone’s experience of being diagnosed with HIV is different. As the news sinks in and you start to come terms with what it means, you may go through a range of different feelings. You may feel like being by yourself, or being with just your partner, you may want to chat with a close friend, or you may want to speak to a professional counsellor, perhaps at the clinic where you received your diagnosis. You can find our more here.
Free HIV test kits
HIV testing kits you can buy
Here are a selection of HIV self-testing kits you can buy.
HIV self test | Terrence Higgins Trust (THT) | £15*
* THT says "We are able to offer tests at a special price of just £15, with free tests available too."
NHS HIV testing rollout identifies hundreds of new cases | NHS England | 30 Nov 2022
In April 2022, the NHS made £20 million available over three years to implement routine HIV opt out testing within 33 hospital Emergency Departments, in areas with the highest rates of diagnosed HIV.
New highly-infectious and damaging strain of HIV discovered in the Netherlands | Pink News | 5 Feb 2022
Living with HIV: never thought it could happen | Terrence Higgins Trust | 30 Mar 2015 | 1m 31s
HIV testing during COVID-19 (lockdown)
New HIV diagnoses in gay and bisexual men in the UK at their lowest in 20 years | Pink News | 3 Nov 2003
Time to test campaign | Campaign | HIV Prevention England | 9 Jun 2020
Covid-19 crisis raises hopes of end to UK transmission of HIV | The Guardian | 13 May 2020
How many people with HIV are getting COVID-19? | Poz | 24 Apr 2020