Rapid HIV Testing: Frequently Asked Questions

What is the HIV Rapid Test?

The rapid HIV test allows you to receive your results in minutes rather than days. There are several rapid tests that are approved for use in the United States by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). New Jersey uses a FDA approved rapid HIV test. The test requires less than a single drop of blood from your fingertip or a swab from your gums. Your test result will be ready in just 20 to 40 minutes.

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What is the advantage of having a rapid test done?

Same-day test results mean you no longer have to wait one to two weeks and return to your health care provider to get your test results. Results are available in 20 to 40 minutes while you wait. This is a less stressful, more convenient way to learn your HIV status.

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Why is this test important?

Because it doesn’t require a second trip to a provider to receive results, the rapid HIV test helps ensure that people who go for testing learn their HIV status on the same visit. For example, in 2002 before rapid testing was available, New Jersey’s publicly funded counseling and testing sites performed 66,763 HIV tests. Of those, 23,070 test results – or 35 percent – were not received by the person tested. Those 23,070 included 381 HIV-positive test results.

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What is the rapid test checking for?

The FDA approved rapid HIV test checks the blood for HIV antibodies, the most common form of the HIV virus that causes AIDS.

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How is the test conducted?

Your fingertip is cleaned with alcohol and pricked with a lancet (needle) to get a small drop of blood. Results of the test can be read in as little as 20 minutes or a swab can be rubbed across your upper and lower gums. The test can also be done using a tube of blood that has been drawn from the patient by a syringe.

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Is this the only HIV test I need to get?

The FDA approved rapid HIV test is a screening test for HIV. If the test is negative, you don’t need to get further testing. Like all HIV screening tests, if the rapid test yields a positive, you’ll need to get another test to confirm the result. The confirmatory test can be performed using blood, urine, or an oral specimen. A positive rapid test performed at a New Jersey publicly funded counseling and testing site will be confirmed through a blood test analyzed by the Public Health and Environmental Laboratory at the New Jersey Department of Health.

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What type of counseling is provided to people getting a rapid HIV test?

When you come in for rapid HIV testing, you will receive counseling for rapid HIV testing that includes:

  • Information about the importance of HIV testing;
  • Information about rapid testing;
  • Ways to reduce the risk of becoming infected with HIV;
  • Next steps for anyone who has a positive rapid test result;
  • Need for additional testing of people whose rapid test result is negative, but who have had a recent exposure to HIV.

People who have a positive rapid HIV test result are counseled about the meaning of that result - that it is a preliminary result requiring a confirming test. On the other hand, if someone tests negative but was recently exposed to HIV, the result could be a false negative. He or she is counseled to get another test at least 3 months after the possible exposure.

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What happens if I have a confirmed positive test?

A confirmed positive test means that you are infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Everyone who has a confirmed positive HIV test is referred for medical care and prevention services. New Jersey has publicly funded HIV clinics statewide. You can find a complete listing of these clinics on the New Jersey Department of Health web site at http://www.nj.gov/health/hivstdtb/hiv-aids/getting-tested/index.shtml. Prevention services are also available statewide. For a complete listing of prevention agencies, visit the New Jersey Department of Health web site.

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Last Reviewed: 11/23/2016