Dear Ask The Doctor: I recently had unprotected sex (about 8 days ago) and in the last couple days have experienced many flu-like symptoms. These have included extreme fatigue, headache, diarrhea, sore throat, red bumps on back of throat, and some muscle soreness. I understand that many of these symptoms can be indicative of early HIV symptoms. I really want to get tested with the HIV PCR test as soon as possible (possibly in 2 days). However, I'm wondering how accurate the results of this test would be at this early stage. I know that this test is much more accurate than the typical antibody test would be at this early on.
Dear Eb: A person may get infected with HIV very fast (within a day or two), but you have to wait a while before an HIV test will produce an accurate result. The period of time you should wait before taking an HIV test will depend on the type of test that you are taking. In the majority of cases, the standard test that will be offered at an HIV testing center will be an HIV antibody Test. The HIV antibody Test detects antibodies to the virus in your blood. For most of the people these antibodies take 6 weeks to 3 months to develop, sometimes, in very rare cases, may take up to 6 months. For this reason, getting tested before 3 months have passed may result in an unclear test result, as the infected person may not yet have developed antibodies to HIV. These 3 – 6 months are known as the 'window period'. Many people do not show symptoms after they first get infected with HIV. Others have a flu-like illness within several days to weeks after exposure to the virus. They complain of: fever, headache, tiredness, and swollen nodes in the neck. These symptoms usually disappear within a few weeks. After that, the person feels normal and has no symptoms. The development of the disease is different among individuals. This state may last from a few months to more than 10 years. Even though the person has no symptoms, is contagious and can pass HIV to others. So, I recommend you to wait for at least 3 months after the last time you were at risk before taking the test. Some test centers may recommend testing again at 6 months, just to be extra sure, though in most cases this is not necessary.