Do I have HIV?

If you do have HIV, finding out early can help you live a long, healthy and active life


Between 70 and 90% of people experience ‘acute’ symptoms one to six weeks after they have been infected with HIV.
These symptoms last for a few days to weeks and include:

  • Severe flu-like symptoms
  • Sore throat
  • Fever
  • Rash on the chest

If HIV is not treated, it may progress to an advanced, life-threatening stage - AIDS

With advances in HIV treatment, many people can recover from AIDS, though they will still have HIV. However there is a period of up to 10 years between infection with HIV and the development of an AIDS-defining illness, in which a person may not experience any symptoms at all.

With treatment, HIV will not develop into AIDS. Getting tested early means that you can access this treatment if you have got HIV, which will stop you from ever getting AIDS.

Therefore if you have put yourself at risk it is incredibly important to get tested, regardless of whether you have symptoms.

Why should I get tested?

Getting tested is the only way to find out if you may have HIV. If you have had sex without using a condom or have shared
injecting drug equipment, you have been at risk of HIV infection. If you have been infected with HIV:

  • A test in good time can ensure that you get excellent treatment and care
  • If you start treatment early, before HIV weakens the immune system, you will most likely be able to live a full,
    healthy and productive life
  • Without treatment, your HIV infection may develop into AIDS, which is highly likely to shorten your lifespan considerably
  • People diagnosed late have a ten-fold increased risk of death within 1 year of HIV diagnosis compared to those diagnosed promptly (3.8% vs. 0.35%)

Where can I get tested?

Free and confidential HIV tests are available from:

  • NHS sexual health clinics (also called GUM clinics)
  • Charity testing services (e.g. Terrence Higgins Trust) 
  • Many GP surgeries​
  • Pharmacies or online for self-testing at home

Private sexual health clinics also offer HIV testing for a fee. Click here to find HIV testing services near you.

Can I test myself?

Yes - home HIV tests are available in two forms:

Home-sampling kits

  • You take a small sample of blood or saliva at home and post the sample to a laboratory for testing
  • You receive results by telephone or text within a week
  • Testing is accurate if carried out three months after you have been at risk of getting HIV
  • Home-sampling kits are free but only available in some areas of the UK - find out if you are eligible here.

Home-testing kits

  • You extract a spot of blood and test it yourself, at home
  • You read your result at home, within 15 minutes of testing
  • If your result is positive, you need to get your result confirmed at a clinic
  • Testing is accurate if carried out more than three months after you have been at risk of getting HIV
  • You can purchase a home-testing kit online here or from a pharmacy
  • It’s important to ensure that your home-testing kit has a ‘CE’ quality assurance mark - otherwise, the kit may not work

    What are the different types of HIV test?

    Clinics and surgeries offer the two main types of HIV test:

    Full blood tests (taken from your arm)

    • You receive very accurate results within 2 to 14 days of your test (your blood sample has to be sent to a lab for analysis)
    • Testing is very accurate if carried out one month after you have been at risk of getting HIV

    Rapid blood (finger prick) and saliva (swab) tests

    • You receive accurate results within just 20 to 40 minutes of your test
    • Testing is accurate if carried out three months after you have been at risk of getting HIV

    I’ve been at risk of HIV - what can I do?

    If you have just been at risk, you may be able to prevent HIV infection by taking a medical treatment called PEP (Post Exposure Prophylaxis). You need to start PEP ideally within 24 hours of the risk occurring and no later than 72 hours. The longer you wait, the less chance there is of PEP working.

    If it has been more than 72 hours since you have been at risk of HIV infection, you should still seek medical help as soon as possible.

    How to get PEP

    You will usually be able to get PEP if you go to a sexual health clinic or hospital A&E department. The doctor you see will advise you on its suitability based on the level of risk involved. They will also ask you to have an HIV test before and after taking PEP. PEP won't be offered if you refuse to be tested.

    How else can I protect myself?

    If you are going to have unprotected sex, you may be able to prevent HIV infection by taking a medication called PrEP (Pre Exposure Prophylaxis). Clinical trials have shown that taking PrEP is a very reliable way of preventing HIV infection in people who are at high risk of getting HIV.

    How to get PrEP

    PrEP is available free through the health services of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. You can have a conversation at sexual health clinics there about whether PrEP is right for you. PrEP is currently not available through GP surgeries or pharmacies, and you should attend a sexual health clinic.

    The drugs used for PrEP are the same as those used for the treatment of people living with HIV and are very safe, with serious side effects occurring very rarely.

    Bear in mind that, unlike condoms, PrEP will not protect you from other sexually transmitted infections or pregnancy.

    For more information on accessing PrEP, the risks and how to protect yourself, click here.