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How is HIV/AIDS Diagnosed?

Discover the diagnostic tests for HIV/AIDS, including antibodies/antigen testing and nucleic acids testing (NATs), along with the importance of CD4 T cell count and medication resistance testing.

  • 13 Feb 2024
  • 2 min read


HIV, or Human Immunodeficiency virus is a virus that attacks the immune system- the CD4 cells (T cells) to be precise. An onslaught of HIV tends to gradually reduce the body's efficiency of fighting off illness and fending for itself. AIDS or Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome is the final and most advanced stage of an HIV infection. Exchange of bodily fluids like blood, semen, vaginal fluids, rectal fluids and breast milk can cause the spread of this infection from one person to another.

The symptoms of the disease vary from person to person and can include fever, rashes, fatigue, muscle and joint aches, sore throats, etc. These can be very similar to the symptoms of other diseases. Thus, it is often tough to identify the infection without testing.  If symptoms persist and no other explanation can be identified, a doctor may consider HIV.

Diagnosis of HIV/AIDS

Blood or saliva tests can be used for AIDS diagnosis. The following tests can be conducted:

  • Antibodies/Antigen testing

  • Typically, this test when performed by a lab on blood drawn from a vein can usually detect HIV 18 to 45 days after exposure. These antigens-components of HIV, are usually detected in the blood and signify a positive test result.
  • You can also do a rapid antigen/antibody test with blood from a finger stick. It can take 18 to 90 days after exposure. 
  • Following HIV exposure, your immune system generates antibodies. Antibodies might be found within weeks or months of one other. 
  • Positive results from the combined antigen/antibody tests may not appear for two to six weeks after exposure.


  • Testing using antibodies

  • These tests search for HIV antibodies in the saliva or blood. 
  • The majority of quick HIV tests, including at-home self-tests, are antibody tests. It may take three to twelve weeks following exposure for an antibody test result to be positive.


  • Tests for nucleic acids (NATs)

  •  These tests search for the real virus (viral load) present in your blood. They also require the drawing of blood from a vein. 
  • Your physician may suggest NATs if you have been infected with HIV in the last few weeks. The initial test performed to show a positive result following HIV exposure will be NATs.

Within three months, HIV antigens or antibodies usually appear in the blood. If you test negative for HIV but believe you may have been exposed to it:

Take the test once more. After a few weeks, a second test might be performed to make sure you're not infected.


Diagnostic and therapeutic testing

You must seek the assistance of a specialist qualified in diagnosis of HIV and treatment if you have been diagnosed with the virus:

  • Assess if you require any extra testing.
  • Choose the HIV antiretroviral therapy (ART) that is most appropriate for your needs.
  • Track your development and collaborate with your physician to maintain your health.

When you are diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, your doctor can use some tests to assess the severity of your condition and the most effective course of therapy. These tests include:

  • CD4 T cell count: This test helps us identify the CD4 cell count in the blood, helping the doctor identify the status of the immune system in an HIV infected person.
  • Medication resistance. There are strains of HIV which are medication resistant, so this helps the doctor in identifying whether the articular strain is resistant or not.
  • HIV RNA is the viral load. The percentage of the virus in your body is measured by this test. Your risk of contracting HIV and other related problems is greatly decreased by doing this.

Also read:


In summary, the diagnosis of HIV or AIDS is possible by private testing methods, most commonly blood tests that look for HIV antibodies or genetic material. HIV and AIDS treatment can be debilitating, not just socially and physically but also financially. So to ensure that people can undergo testing and obtain the necessary medical care, health insurance is essential. For efficient treatment and to stop the virus from spreading, a prompt diagnosis is the way to go. The general public health approach to halting the HIV/AIDS pandemic greatly benefits from accessible health insurance plans.

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