It is recommended that you get tested for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) at least twice a year if you are sexually active, even if you protect yourself each time.

You may want to get tested more often, for example, if you are having sex with a new partner or feel you are putting yourself at greater risk. More at-risk groups are recommended to be tested more frequently. Testing every 3-6 months is recommended for men who have sex with men.

Regular testing helps you to stay reassured, and if the test result is positive, it means you can start treatment as soon as possible, protecting your health.

Should I wait for a specific time to get tested for HIV?

If you’ve had unprotected sex, used needles in a communal setting, or think you’ve been at risk in some other way, then you should talk to your doctor or a professional as soon as possible.

They will be able to talk to you about your situation and help you decide what to do next. If you go to the doctor or hospital within 72 hours of when you think you have been exposed to HIV, they may give you PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis). PEP is an emergency treatment that can prevent HIV infection. It must be started within 72 hours of possible infection and taken as appropriate.

Unfortunately, PEP is not always available, and doctors can only prescribe it when they believe you are at a high risk of HIV infection. If you take PEP, you should get tested before and after to make sure it worked.

If the time of taking PEP has passed, get tested: most modern HIV tests are now able to detect HIV about four weeks after exposure. Depending on the type of test you took and the level of risk you were exposed to, your doctor/counsellor may ask you to come back for further testing and follow-up on the results.

If you think you have been exposed to HIV, it is at this early stage of infection that it is easiest to transmit HIV to others. Be more careful during this period – use condoms and don’t share needles with other people.

About the window period…

The window period refers to the time it takes for HIV to show up for testing. The length of the window period depends on the type of test you take.

If you think you are at risk of HIV infection, don’t wait, talk to your doctor or another professional as soon as possible. The most important thing is to get tested.

If your test result is negative, but you think you have been exposed to HIV recently, you can repeat the test after the window period has passed.

The picture below shows the window periods for different types of HIV tests. Some tests (fourth-generation tests) can give an accurate result in four weeks, while others can give an accurate result three months after exposure (third-generation tests and some self-test kits). The tests used in Checkpoint are a hybrid with a window period of 6 weeks (specificity over 99%).

A professional will be able to explain to you how long the window period is for the test you are taking and tell you if they think you need to be retested for HIV.