There are three types of HIV tests that vary based on what they test for to detect the presence of HIV-1, the most common type of HIV virus in the United States.
- Antibody HIV test
- RNA HIV test
- Protein HIV test
Antibody HIV Test
When a person is infected with the HIV virus, his body produces antibodies to try to fight off the infection. Unfortunately, these antibodies aren’t successful against HIV. However, researchers have identified the
specific antibodies that the body produces to fight HIV, and the presence of those antibodies indicates an HIV infection. The antibody HIV test is the most commonly-used HIV test, and it can be used with a blood or saliva sample. There is a small chance that an antibody HIV test can produce a false-positive test result.
It can take up to three months for the body to produce enough antibodies against HIV that the presence of those antibodies shows up in an HIV test. That means you can be infected with HIV and still test negative for the virus on an antibody test for up to three months after infection.
RNA HIV Test
Your DNA makes RNA, and the HIV virus has a specific type of RNA that’s not found in humans. An RNA HIV test detects the HIV’s RNA in your blood using a process called a polymerase chain reaction, or PCR. The RNA test is more sensitive than the antibody test. It can usually identify if you’ve been infected with HIV in the first four weeks after becoming infected. RNA testing is also used to determine how much HIV virus is in an HIV-positive person’s body. The RNA HIV test more expensive to perform than an antibody HIV test.
Protein HIV Test
The protein HIV test is a combination test. It looks for antibodies that try to fight HIV-1 or HIV-2, and it looks for a protein called p24 that’s part of the core of the HIV virus. The protein test can usually detect HIV a week or more before there are enough antibodies to show up on the antibody test by itself.
Anonymous HIV Tests
In most cases, if you go to a doctor, clinic or other health care facility for an HIV test, the health care provider performing the test is under obligation by law to report your information such as name, address, birth date and other personal information to the state health department. They don’t even have to tell you they are doing it.
However, unlike testing for other sexually-transmitted diseases, some clinics do offer anonymous HIV tests. When you arrive for the test, you’re given a number and you never have to provide your name.
The most anonymous option is probably the Oraquick Oral In-Home Saliva Test for HIV. For total anonymity, you can purchase one at a drugstore such as CVS, Rite-Aid or Walgreens.
If you want a more sensitive lab test to detect an early infection, follow the instructions in our guide to get an anonymous HIV test from this lab and request the HIV Early Detection (RNA) test. The test usually detects the virus from nine to 11 days after infection.