What are the Possible HIV Test Results?

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  • Written By: Amy Hunter
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 20 August 2019
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HIV testing is over 99% accurate, but the results can still be confusing. While a positive or negative result is self-explanatory, some people receive an indeterminate result. To better understand HIV test results, it is helpful to understand some of the basics of HIV testing.

When someone becomes infected with the HIV virus, the body produces antibodies to fight the virus. The antibodies that humans produce are not potent enough to fight off the virus, but they are present in the system of anyone infected with HIV. The antibodies can be found in blood, urine and oral fluid, which is different than saliva. HIV tests look for the presence of HIV antibodies, and not the actual virus, in the body. Most doctors test the blood when testing for the HIV virus.

One test for the HIV virus is a rapid test, where results are available within 20 minutes. Other HIV test results will take several days to complete. If the HIV test results come back as reactive, or positive, the physician will order a second, or confirmation, test.

The confirmation blood test that is performed is often the Western blot. The results of this test may take several weeks to come back. This can be a very stressful time. During this waiting period the physician may recommend counseling sessions in order to prepare the patient for a possible positive diagnosis.


If the HIV test results come back as negative, the patient should feel confident that he is not infected with the HIV virus. HIV tests are very accurate, so a negative result should eliminate any worry. Rarely, a third result may come back after an HIV test.

An HIV test result of indeterminate can mean several things. In general, it means that the sample did not test with high enough levels of HIV antibodies to give a diagnosis of HIV. Something, however, showed up in the results that prevented the laboratory from giving a negative test result. Possible reasons for an indeterminate result are problems with the sample taken in the office, or a very recent exposure to the virus.

Doctors typically recommend that anyone who receives an indeterminate HIV test result return for a follow-up test in three months. While waiting for the follow-up test, it is important to practice safe sex, even if you are in a monogamous relationship, and not to share needles or engage in any other risky behavior.



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