HIV Testing

What is HIV?

HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus.  HIV affects the body’s immune system – the body’s defence against diseases.

If HIV is detected early it can be treated successfully.  A person can live well and in good health for many years.

Knowing your HIV status can also help you plan for events like having a child so that the risk of passing on HIV to a partner or your baby is kept very low.

People who do not receive treatment for HIV can then go on to develop AIDS.
AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.  A person is considered to have AIDS when their immune system is weakened so they cannot fight off a range of diseases.

Early diagnosis leads to improved health and a longer life.



How is HIV passed on?

HIV is found in body fluids such as semen, vaginal fluid, blood and breast milk.   HIV can be passed on through:

  • unprotected anal, vaginal or oral sex.  (The risk is highest with unprotected anal sex).
  • sharing drug using equipment including: needles, syringes, filters and crack pipes. 
  • from an HIV positive mother to her baby during pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding.

What can help prevent transmission of HIV?

  • Use condoms during vaginal, anal and oral sex.
  • Use lubricant during anal and vaginal sex.  This reduces the risk of a condom splitting and damage to your anus and vagina.
  • Look after your mouth.  If the lining of your mouth is sore or damaged it is easier to pass on HIV.  Do not brush your teeth, use mouthwash or floss just before or after oral sex.  You may decide not to let someone ejaculate in your mouth to reduce the risk of passing on HIV or other infections.
  • Do not share drug using equipment.
  • Have regular sexual health check-ups and prompt treatment as being infected with other STI's can make it easier for HIV to be passed on.
  • Talk with health care workers about what gets in the way of practising safer sex and/or safer drug use to find ways around these problems.
  • Plan ahead and carry what you need to keep yourself safe.

If you have been at risk?

If you think you have been exposed to HIV within the last 72 hours a treatment called PEP (Post Exposure Prophylaxis) may reduce your chance of becoming infected.

You can get PEP from some Sexual Health Clinics or Accident and Emergency Departments (open 24 hours a day).
This treatment needs to be started as soon as possible. 

Having an HIV test

A blood test is the usual test for HIV.
Results are generally ready within 7 days.

If your test is HIV positive you will be put in contact with a specialist HIV team who can give you support and information.  They are part of the confidential sexual health team.

When should I test?

The tests used today can usually tell if a person has HIV within a month of becoming infected.