Blood tests have always been the most common way to diagnose HIV. These tests look for antibodies that the body creates in an attempt to fight the virus. People exposed to the virus should get tested immediately, although it can take the body anywhere from six weeks to a year to develop antibodies for the virus. Follow-up tests may be needed depending on the initial time of exposure. Early testing is crucial. If a person tests positive for the virus, he/she and the doctor will discuss and develop a treatment plan that can help fight HIV and ward off complications. Early testing is helpful because it can alert people to avoid high-risk behavior that can spread the virus to others.
According to hiv.org, the only way to know if you have HIV is to take an HIV test. Multiple national guidelines recommend routine voluntary HIV screening of all patients aged 18 to 75 years of age as a normal part of medical care. The reason for these recommendations is that nearly one out of five people infected with HIV are not aware that they have the infection. Most health care providers offer HIV testing, often with appropriate counseling as well as anonymous and free testing. During testing, the doctor will ask about symptoms, medical history, risk factors, and perform a physical exam.
HIV is also commonly diagnosed by testing saliva for antibodies for the virus. Unfortunately, it takes time for your body to develop these antibodies which is usually up to 12 weeks. A quicker test checks for HIV antigen, a protein produced by the virus immediately after infection. It can confirm a diagnosis soon after you are infected and allow the person to take swiffer steps to prevent the spread of the virus to others.
Nowadays, there are more ways to detect if a person has HIV such as home testing. There are at least two Food and Drug Administration-approved home test kits for HIV. Depending on which one the person chooses, they will need a drop of dried blood or sample of saliva. However, the person still need to see a doctor, if the test is positive. The doctor will confirm the diagnosis and discuss the treatment options. If the test is negative, it needs to be repeated in a few months to confirm the results.
If a person receive a diagnosis of HIV/AIDS, several tests can help the doctor determine the stage of the disease and the best treatment. These tests include:
CD4 T cell count. CD4 T cells are white blood cells that are specifically targeted and destroyed by HIV. Even if the person has no symptoms, HIV progresses to AIDS when your CD4 T cell count dips below 200.
Viral load (HIV RNA). This test measures the amount of virus in the blood. A higher viral load has been linked to a worse outcome.
Drug resistance. Some strains of HIV are resistant to medications. This test helps the doctor determine if a specific form of the virus has resistance and guides treatment decisions.