The HIV screening | Háttér Society

The HIV screening


HIV infection is no longer a death sentence. Infection detected early can be treated with medication and you can live a full life with it. Treatment reduces the virus to a level where you cannot even sexually infect others.

HIV infection can only be detected using screening tests developed for this purpose. It is impossible to tell for sure whether someone is infected with HIV or not just by looking at them or by looking at their symptoms.

There are many different types of HIV screening tests available, they all work on different principles, so it is important to be aware of the differences between them.

There are HIV screening tests that detect the presence of the virus in the blood, but these are rarely used for screening purposes and their role is mainly to check and confirm cases that have been screened by rapid tests.

The HIV screening tests used in rapid screening tests do not directly test for the virus but for the presence of so-called antibodies in the blood. It is important to know that it takes time for the human body to produce these antibodies, so there must be a time lag between infection and its detection by rapid tests. This time is called the window period.

The screening process for rapid tests

In the most commonly used rapid tests, blood is drawn from the fingertip using a near-painless, tiny pricking instrument. The result is obtained in 20 minutes, usually waiting at the screening site. The rapid tests used nowadays give a definitive result after 28 days (a window period of about a month).

For a saliva test, a small disposable test stick is drawn across the gums of your upper or lower, or both, teeth. This delivers the sample to the rapid testing device, which usually gives a result after 20 minutes, which you can also wait for at the screening site. The window period for saliva tests is longer than for fingerstick tests, with a definite result after about six weeks. It is important not to eat or drink for half an hour before the screening test.

Although rapid tests are extremely sensitive, it is extremely rare that a false positive result is obtained due to some other process in the body. Therefore, a positive result from a rapid HIV test is not an immediate confirmation of HIV infection, but should be interpreted as a reasonable suspicion. Further tests by a specialist and a sample of venous blood are needed to establish the diagnosis of HIV. This is called verification, which either confirms or refutes the HIV infection detected by the rapid test.

Screening sites

There are screening centers that offer anonymous screening, i.e. they do not require the person coming for screening to identify themselves, the result is given on the basis of a token. Such places also do not require a social security card, so uninsured or foreigners can also be screened.

Other screening centers will only provide HIV testing after identification and against a social security card. In some cases (e.g. visa application, employment), proof of HIV status is required, but this cannot be done anonymously, as the proof must include your name. Some screening centers charge a fee for certain services (e.g. faster reporting of results, issuing of certificates, certain types of tests). You can find out about the services provided and the fees charged on our page listing the screening centers.

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