HIV rapid test - you should know that!

What is a rapid HIV test?

The HIV rapid test is a simple test procedure with which you can also independently get initial assessments of a possible HIV infection.
The test delivers the first results within half an hour, which is why it is also called a “rapid test”.
The “fast” does not refer to doing the test immediately after suspecting a fresh HIV infection. It is only meaningful from about three months after infection.

Also read: What is HIV - You should know that!

When should I do a rapid HIV test?

Imagine that you had unprotected sex and that you don't know if your partner has HIV. Or imagine: you are working in a hospital and came into contact with the blood of a patient whose HIV status you are not sure about.

In these cases it is very important for you to find out the HIV status of the contact person within a very short time - namely two hours.
Because if your partner, the patient or anyone with whose body fluids you came into contact with HIV, you can protect yourself against infection with post-exposure prophylaxis.
Post-exposure prophylaxis, however, only makes sense within the first two hours.
Therefore the HIV rapid test can help! Within half an hour you can ascertain the HIV status of the contact person and, if necessary, carry out post-exposure prophylaxis.

Post-expostioton prophylaxis is a way of taking measures to protect the body after contact with the pathogen and thus to escape the onset of the disease. For detailed information, read our article: Post-exposure prophylaxis - the rescue?

When does the HIV rapid test make no sense?

The HIV rapid test does not help to reliably assess a fresh HIV infection.
It is only meaningful if the infection with the HI virus was around three months ago.

This period of time is also known as the “diagnostic window”. This is justified as follows:
The HIV rapid test is used to check for antibodies against the HI virus. If no antibodies can be detected, there is almost certainly no HIV infection.
However, it takes the body six to twelve weeks to produce these antibodies. This means that if you perform the HIV rapid test before the diagnostic window of three months and the test is negative, it is still possible that antibodies will be formed in the course of the test. The HIV infection would thus be overlooked.
However, if the test is positive because some antibodies have already been formed, further diagnostics can be carried out.

Overall, it can be said that the HIV rapid test - like the other HIV tests - does not make sense three months after a possible infection to rule out an HIV infection.

There are alternative HIV tests that can be carried out in a shorter period of time after infection and are therefore useful. With the HIV laboratory test you can safely rule out an HIV infection within six weeks. For more information on this topic, we recommend: The HIV test - you should know that!

When should the rapid HIV test be repeated?

The HIV rapid test should be repeated if it was performed incorrectly.

Another important reason for repeating the test is the timing of the test. If you have not observed a three-month interval between suspected infection with HIV, you should repeat the test after three months: the body needs for Formation of antibodies for up to twelve weeks. This means that a reliable result can only be expected after twelve weeks.

Carrying out the rapid HIV test

Depending on which HIV rapid test you choose, there may be slight differences in how it is performed. A good HIV rapid test always has a detailed package insert and is easy to perform.

Usually you first have to disinfect a finger with an enclosed alcohol swab. Then the finger is pricked on the side with the supplied needle. For the test, it is sufficient to collect a few drops of the blood with a pipette.The blood in the pipette is then usually mixed with a liquid first so that it does not clump immediately. The blood is then applied to the test strip.
Depending on the brand, you may need to add other liquids or solutions contained in the pack to the test strip for the correct procedure.

Therefore, inform yourself about the contents of the pack so that the test can also be evaluated.

Do you have to be sober for the HIV rapid test?

No, the rapid HIV test does not have to be carried out on an empty stomach.

Can I also do the rapid HIV test at home?

You can also carry out the HIV rapid test independently at home.
However, to rule out a first HIV infection, the possible HIV infection should be at least three months ago.

The body needs this time to form antibodies. The HIV rapid test cannot therefore reliably rule out an infection in less than three months. If you have a positive result in the HIV self-test, a confirmation test must be carried out by the doctor! Only in this way can HIV be diagnosed and treated.

Evaluation of the HIV rapid test

In most cases, the evaluation is based on this principle:

  • One strip: No HIV antibodies were detected, so there is no HIV infection. A negative test result is only reliable three months after a possible HIV infection!
  • Two strips: HIV antibodies were detected. The likelihood of an existing HIV infection is high, but cannot be confirmed with certainty. You should therefore urgently see a doctor.
  • No strip: The test was carried out incorrectly and cannot be interpreted.

Does the HIV rapid test test for HIV 1 and 2?

An HIV rapid test does not detect the HI virus, but the antibodies against the HI virus. It is therefore an indirect method to assess an existing HIV infection. Antibodies against HIV 1 and HIV 2 are tested.

Can the rapid test also be false positive?

The CE-marked rapid tests are too sensitive in some cases. Although they do not overlook any HIV infection at all, they give a positive test result in 0.2% of the cases, although in reality there is no HIV infection.
In such a case it makes no sense to repeat the quick test. A doctor's HIV laboratory test is necessary to include or exclude the diagnosis of HIV.

If a test is positive, how likely do I really have HIV?

Some statistics are required to answer this question. If you are at high risk of developing HIV and it is assumed that the HIV high-risk group makes up, for example, 10% of the German population, then, according to statistical calculations, there is a 92% probability of an HIV infection.

When are the test results available?

The test result is available after about 5 to 30 minutes. So it is much faster than laboratory HIV tests.

Buy HIV rapid test - where and how expensive?

Can I buy a rapid HIV test from a pharmacy without a prescription?

Rapid HIV tests have been available for sale in pharmacies and drugstores since October 2018.
There are many different providers. Not every provider is good. For a good HIV rapid test, we only recommend rapid tests with the CE mark of the European Union and approval in Europe or Germany. In addition, a good rapid test should be confidential.
If information on the sensitivity is available, we always recommend a rapid HIV test with 100% sensitivity. These tests recognize all people infected with HIV.

However, you should know that a positive test is not sufficient, the HIV infection must be confirmed by a doctor. Good rapid HIV tests include those of the brand “INSTI”, “Autotest VIH” or “Exacto”. The costs vary between 15 to 50 euros.

Can I also buy an HIV rapid test online?

Rapid HIV tests have been freely available online in Germany since October 2018.
Look out for a CE mark of the European Union and an approval in Europe. Instructions for use are often in the product description, they should not be too complicated.
Good rapid HIV tests include those of the brand “INSTI”, “Autotest VIH” or “Exacto”. The costs are around 15 to 50 euros with additional shipping costs.
A positive test does not confirm the diagnosis of HIV. A medical certificate is required.

Cost of a rapid HIV test

The cost of an HIV rapid test varies between 15 and 50 euros, depending on the brand. It is strongly recommended to buy a rapid HIV test with the CE mark of the European Union.

What are the alternatives?

The HIV laboratory test is an alternative to the rapid HIV test.
This test is carried out anyway in the event of a positive HIV rapid test to confirm the diagnosis. It includes a screening test and a confirmation test using a blood test.
The difference to the HIV rapid test, however, is that in the HIV laboratory test a blood sample is taken from the veins and the blood is not only examined for antibodies, but also for other components typical of HIV (antigens).
The test can also be carried out about two weeks after a possible HIV infection and after six weeks safely exclude an HIV infection.

There is also the HIV PCR test. Here, the blood is not examined for antibodies, but for the HI virus itself. This test is carried out primarily to control therapy when HIV infection is treated.

For more information on this topic, we recommend our page on: HIV test