“Out of 10 questions I get from my patients and the visitors of my website, 4 are related to catching a sexually transmitted infection because they had oral or protected or unprotected sex with an unfamiliar person” says Dr. Karthik Gunasekaran, one of Chennai’s popular sexually transmitted infection specialist at Metromale Clinic & Fertility Center, Chennai.
“No exceptions, everyone does gets involved without thinking twice and only after reaching orgasm, do they realize and start to think if they could have caught HIV, HPV or any other STI but wouldn’t that be too late? The answer is Yes and No”, adds Dr. Karthik. In this article, let’s talk about different HIV tests that are available currently, when to get tested for confirmed results and what does your report results mean.
What happens after having unprotected sex with a possibly infected person?
The most feared disease of STDs is HIV/AIDS. Though there are other diseases such as HPV, Syphilis caused by virus, many (rather most) are worried about contracting HIV. Some don’t even know that certain bacterial infections such as Chlamydia, Gonorrhea are most commonly spread STDs.
If you have unprotected sex with a possibly infected person (whether a male or a female), you may or may not contract the virus in one interaction. Chances are very small but certainly not zero. If you get infected, the virus enters your blood stream and starts multiplying very rapidly. During this period, you won’t have any symptom. This multiplication period can be 5 to 14 days long until the first symptom shows up. This is called a ‘window period’. If you happen to have unprotected sex during this window period with another healthy individual, you will be very well transmitting the virus to the healthy person. The window period is the biggest disadvantage in people who contract the virus because, if the first symptom showed up in less than 72 hours after contracting the virus, you would have a chance of undergoing ‘Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP)’ treatment that can prevent you from becoming a HIV patient.
Common initial symptoms of HIV are:
- Flu like symptoms
- Muscle aches
- Swollen lymph nodes etc.
When you present yourself with any of these symptoms with a recent history of having unprotected sex, your doctor would advise you to get tested for the full set of Sexually Transmitted Infections, instead of just HIV. Reason being, there can be several other diseases that can get transmitted and some may be treatable with medicines.
Different types of HIV tests
There are 3 different types of HIV tests and each test looks at different parameters to determine if you are infected.
- NAT – Nucleic Acid Test
- Antigen / antibody Test
- Antibody Test
NAT – Nucleic Acid Test
This test is suggested if you have been infected very recently i.e, only a few days or a couple of weeks ago. The test is performed on the blood drawn from the vein and it looks for the presence of the virus. The test can also tell the number of virus present in one deciliter of blood (viral load). This is a little expensive tests compared to the other tests but this is kind of sure shot method to detect the presence of HIV in the body.
When to get this test – If it is less than 2 weeks since you had unprotected sex with your partner.
Is a reactive result confirmative – Almost confirmative but your doctor may ask you to wait for another month to get another type of test done to be 100% sure.
Antigen / Antibody Test
Antigen is the actual virus or the material belonging to the foreign body that triggers the immune response in the body. If you are taking any vaccine, the elements inside the vaccine that triggers immune response are also called antigens.
The antigen/antibody test looks for the presence of antigens (the actual cause) and the antibodies (that are produced by your immune system to fight the antigens). The antigen of HIV is called p24 and this is present in the body before the immune system starts producing antibodies. The test involves collection of blood from the vein or by a finger prick and usually results are obtained in an hour.
When to get this test – Between 2 to 4 weeks after having unprotected sex with your partner.
A reactive (or positive) result is an affirmation that the virus is present in the body.
When your body detects the presence of virus (the antigens), it starts producing antibodies to contain the spread of the virus and tries to kill it. However, by then, HIV would have taken full control of your body and your immune system is only fighting a losing battle.
Antibody test is recommended only after 30 days of contact and a positive result is most often a confirmation of infection. Blood drawn from finger prick is good enough to conduct this test and the results are obtained typically in an hour.
When to get this test – between 30 to 90 days after infection.
A reactive result is 100% confirmation of getting infected.
Important things to keep in mind if you think you will ever have unprotected sex with someone
- Stop googling and don’t wait for a symptom.
- Don’t assume that your partner is safe and you wouldn’t have contracted any infection.
- Do NOT trust your stranger’s words when he/she says that he/she never had any symptom. He/she may be telling the truth but not everyone will see symptoms after getting infected.
- Don’t delay in seeing a good sexologist near you.
- Get all the tests requested by your doctor immediately.
- If your doctor advises you to go on Post Exposure Prophylaxis treatment, you MUST go ahead without any hesitation. After all, it’s the last 72 hours of precious time you will have in your hands to save yourself.