How long do HIV test results take? How are they reported?

How long do results take?

Rapid HIV tests can give results in 15 to 60 minutes, or on the same day.

‘Rapid’ refers to the time taken for the results and not to the time between exposure and the test.

If samples are being sent to another lab, results can take from a few days or a few weeks.

Rapid blood tests put a pin-prick of blood on a testing strip. This test takes about 15 to 20 minutes so you can get the results whilst you wait.

Some rapid tests also work on oral samples rather than blood. Although they are sometimes called saliva tests this is not accurate. Oral samples collect cells from the surface of the gums and not saliva. These cells contain HIV antibodies.

When samples are sent to a lab you can either collect your results in person or they will be posted out to you. It is your responsibility to get the results. A few clinics may give results over the phone.

Rapid tests involve a 3 month window. This means the results tells you your HIV status three months ago. A positive result from a rapid test always needs to be confirmed by a different laboratory test. If you have had other recent risks, a negative result needs to be confirmed in three months.

How are results reported?

Your test centre should clearly explain the results of your test.

If you have questions that were not explained, or that still worry you, ask the test centre first.

Rapid blood tests show two lines if positive or one line if negative, in a similar way as a pregnancy test (see Figure 8).

Results from laboratory tests are given as negative, positive or indeterminate.

• Negative or non-reactive means you are HIV negative. You do not have HIV (based on the window period and no recent risks).

• Positive or reactive means the test shows you are HIV positive and you have HIV infection.

• Indeterminate means the test result was unclear and needs to be repeated.

Figure 8: Example results from a rapid test

Last updated: 1 June 2021.