Updated 25 June 2014

Tests used for diagnosis of HIV infection

The diagnosis of HIV infection is based mainly on the laboratory testing of blood samples.

The diagnosis of HIV infection
The diagnosis of HIV infection is usually based on both a clinical assessment (symptoms) and subsequent confirmation by means of an HIV antibody test (e.g. rapid tests or the ELISA) or viral tests (e.g. PCR technique).

While HIV testing was previously mainly used to confirm or to diagnose suspected HIV disease, people are now encouraged to make use of voluntary counselling and testing (VCT) services to find out their HIV status.

Pre- and post-HIV test counselling mandatory
Pre- and post-HIV test counselling must always be done before and after testing a client for HIV infection. The reason for testing, the nature of the test, the implications of a positive or a negative test result, and the client’s prospects (in either case) should be discussed with every client before testing. Informed consent and confidentiality are mandatory.

Nobody may give out the results of a client without his or her consent.

Test used for the diagnosis of HIV Infection
Two broad classes of tests may be distinguished:
  1. HIV antibody tests, which react to antibodies which have formed in reaction to the virus, and
  2. Tests which detect the actual virus (HIV) in the blood.

HIV antibody tests include:

  1. HIV ELISA tests
  2. HIV rapid tests
  3. Saliva and urine tests

Tests to detect the hi-virus include:

  1. PCR test
  2. p24 test


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Dr Sindisiwe van Zyl qualified at the University of Pretoria in 2005. She is a patients' rights activist and loves using social media to teach about HIV. She is in private practice in Johannesburg.

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