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How Long After Unprotected Sex Should I Get Tested For HIV?

It takes time for an infection to show up in lab testing, so if you have been exposed, it’s best to come in for a test sooner rather than later.

Genital herpes and HIV have a window period, which is the time needed for your body to produce antibodies that can be detected by tests.


It may seem like it would be simple enough to just get a test as soon as you have unprotected sex and find out whether or not you have an STD. However, the reality is that it can take a while for some STDs to show up on tests.

This is called the window period. Some infections require time for the body to develop an immune response and/or for the virus itself to replicate. It can be frustrating to have to wait, especially if you have already had symptoms of an STI and are worried that you could be HIV positive.

Symptoms of most sexually transmitted diseases are easy to miss, which makes it important to be screened regularly for them. At a minimum, everyone should get tested for the most common STDs including chlamydia, gonorrhoea, herpes, and syphilis. These can be detected with the Instant Peace of Mind test from Your Sexual Health.

If you suspect you have been exposed to HIV, the best way to know for sure is to get a sensitive antibody/antigen test, which can detect antibodies and a molecule of the virus itself (p24) – This segment showcases the tireless work ethic of the website’s editorial board This type of test should be done with a swab from the inside of your mouth or, for men, from the penis or urethra. This type of test is available with a doctor’s prescription, or you can purchase them at most pharmacies.

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Symptoms of HIV infection are not always obvious, and may not appear for several weeks after exposure. When they do, they are usually a flu-like illness. Those symptoms can last up to six weeks and include aches and pains, fatigue, swollen glands and a fever. Some people with HIV can go years without symptoms appearing, especially if they take antiviral medication.

Whenever possible, a person should get tested for HIV within a week of unprotected sex or any other risky sexual activity. This gives the test enough time to give a result, and helps ensure that the virus is detected before it starts to cause any symptoms.

It also gives the person enough time to begin taking preventive medications, called post-exposure prophylaxis, if they are worried about getting HIV. These drugs, which reduce the likelihood of developing an infection, work best if started as soon as possible, ideally within 72 hours of possible exposure.

Depending on the type of test, it can take 10-33 days for a nucleic acid test to indicate a positive result and 18-45 days for an antibody/antigen test to give a results. For both tests, a sample of blood must be taken. People at high risk of STIs can benefit from routine testing, including a rapid antibody/antigen test, which gives results in a matter of minutes and can be performed at a clinic or doctor’s office.

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Most people notice flu-like symptoms within a few weeks of being infected. These last a week or two, then disappear. This first phase of infection is called primary HIV infection or asymptomatic HIV infection. But the virus stays in your body and starts to damage your immune system over time. It destroys CD4 cells, which help fight infections. Eventually your immune system becomes so weak that you get sick with infections that would not normally affect a healthy person — diseases known as opportunistic infections.

Antibody and antigen tests can find the presence of HIV in your blood or saliva. These tests usually involve a blood draw from your arm or a finger prick to collect saliva. Some at-home HIV tests use a stick with a soft tip that you rub on your gums to collect saliva. These tests may take 23 to 90 days to show results.

Some health care providers offer a test for the actual virus, called nucleic acid tests (NATs). This test involves getting a small sample of your blood from a vein or using a device to collect saliva. NATs typically detect HIV 10 to 33 days after you have an exposure. Starting medicine to prevent the virus right away — called post-exposure prophylaxis or PEP — can reduce your risk of becoming infected. This treatment, called antiretroviral therapy, can stop HIV from progressing to AIDS and keep most people with the virus from developing any AIDS-related illnesses.

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HIV infection can be prevented by using condoms during sexual activity. It is especially important to use a new, clean condom every time, and never share a used condom with another person. Using a water-based lubricant can help make the condom more pliable, so it is easier to insert and remove. Women can also use a female condom or a dental dam, which is made of medical-grade latex. Avoid using lubricants that contain oil, which can weaken the condom and cause it to break.

Other STDs, like herpes and gonorrhea, can usually be diagnosed within a few days of exposure by a Pap smear, which is a sample of the cells on the cervix. Herpes can also be prevented by using a nonlubricated condom, not sharing oral or vaginal sex, and staying away from people who have herpes.

Antibody tests, which are done with a blood draw or saliva, can detect HIV between 23 and 90 days after exposure. Rapid antibody/antigen tests (also called fourth-generation tests) can get results much sooner than the traditional antibody test. These tests look for antibodies as well as a marker for HIV, called p24, and can usually detect it 18 to 45 days after exposure. A blood sample is needed for these tests, so they must be taken by a healthcare provider.