HIV testing

It is important to get tested regularly for HIV if you are sexually active and when you change sexual partners. HIV often has no symptoms. Testing is the only way to be sure of your HIV status.

Getting tested for HIV means that, if you are infected with the virus, you can receive HIV treatment and care before the infection damages your health. It also means you will reduce the risk of transmitting the virus to your partner.

HIV is passed on through bodily fluids (such as semen, vaginal fluid and blood).

Most cases of HIV transmission in London are through sex, which is why condoms are important in reducing that risk, as well as other new methods such as PrEP.

Condoms also protect against other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as gonorrhoea and chlamydia.

Getting an HIV test

Getting tested for HIV is quick, easy and confidential.

There are now many more options to get tested than ever before – these include testing at home, at your GP or at a clinic:

Find an HIV test centre near you

Order a HIV self-testing kit

Find a sexual health clinic near you

Order a free HIV self-sampling kit

If you are at risk for HIV infection you should have an HIV test.

If you are at high HIV risk you should have repeat HIV tests regularly – ideally every three months.

If you are infected with HIV, testing regularly will mean you are diagnosed early. This enables you to access the highly effective treatment and care you will need to protect your health and avoid passing the virus on to your sexual partners.

Taking an HIV test is the only way to find out if you are HIV negative or HIV positive.

If you are HIV positive, early diagnosis will mean that your treatment will have better outcomes, and the risk of onward transmission to other people will be extremely low.

Get tested regularly for HIV if you are one of those most-at-risk:

  1. Men who have sex with men (gay or bisexual men) are advised to have an HIV test and Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) screen at least annually, and every three months if having unprotected sex with new or casual partners.
  2. Black-African men and women are advised to have an HIV test, and a regular HIV test and STI screen, if having condomless sex with new or casual partners.

Alongside testing, condoms will protect you from many other STIs, until all partners have received their results. PrEP is another very effective method of protecting you against HIV, though it does not protect against STIs. Find out more about PrEP.

It is very easy to get an HIV test throughout the UK. You can:

a. Ask your GP. An HIV test involves having blood taken, or sometimes even a small finger prick. Most General Practitioner doctors (GPs) are able to arrange to have blood taken and sent to a laboratory for an HIV test, and to get the result back within two to three days. There is no need for a lengthy discussion about HIV testing.

b. Go to a sexual health or genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinic and ask for a test. You don’t need a referral from your GP and you can go to a clinic anywhere in London or the UK. Sexual health clinics will not share your testing information with other NHS services. Most London clinics offer rapid HIV testing which provide a result in minutes. Those clinics will take a follow-up blood specimen to investigate any immediate results that need more information.

c. Use an HIV testing service in a community setting. These are provided by NHS outreach clinics and some HIV charities, including Do It London teams in gay venues across London. These tests are free, confidential and safe. You will be given appropriate advice and referred into other NHS services if necessary.

d. Request a self-sampling kit online. There are a number of self-sampling HIV test services available online. These include:
– the national self-sampling service
 – SH:24
– London’s new sexual health E-service.

You will receive a free self-sampling kit in the post and be asked to take a blood or saliva specimen yourself, then post it back to a laboratory. After a few days you will get your result by text message or phone call.

e. Purchase a home-testing kit. This allows you to perform an HIV test on yourself and get the result immediately. If this result is “reactive” it indicates that you may have HIV, but you will need to visit a sexual health service to confirm the result and get medical advice. 

Testing for HIV (and other STIs) is free at your GP, at a sexual health clinic or from an outreach service.

Even if you are an international student, a short-term visitor, a migrant from abroad, or an asylum seeker – no matter what your residency status – having an HIV test is free and confidential. Self-testing (where you test yourself and see the result straight away) generally involves a fee of around £30, but some boroughs and charities are making this available for free to certain groups, for example SELPHI.

HIV self-test kits available to purchase in the UK must meet a number of requirements related to test performance, labelling and instructions for use. All tests that meet these required standards will be given a CE mark. This means that when used as intended, CE marked self-test kits will work properly and be acceptably safe. So you should check for the CE mark:

CE mark example
You should consult your GP or visit a sexual health service if your concerns or symptoms persist, or if you have any worries about your health.

If you have condomless sex then you may also be at risk of other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), or blood borne viruses such as Hepatitis B and C. Some of these infections have no symptoms, so regular screening is recommended. You can do this at a sexual health clinic  or -in some boroughs- by ordering a home STI screening pack from London’s new sexual health E-Service.

You can reduce your risk of acquiring HIV and other STIs by:

a. Using a condom correctly and consistently – and until all partners have received a negative STI and HIV screen.

b. Reducing your number of sexual partners and avoiding overlapping sexual relationships.

c. Having an HIV test. Early HIV diagnosis improves your health as you receive NHS treatment and care.

d. Using Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP).

e. If diagnosed with HIV, follow the instructions of your doctor to achieve undetectable status. An undetectable viral load (UVL) makes it very unlikely that HIV can be passed on to your partner.

These services will offer you advice on how to reduce your chances of contracting HIV and help avoid risks in the future.

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