Because you tested negative for HIV does NOT mean that you might not be infected. You might be infected and passing on the virus infecting others but don’t know it. After a person is infected with HIV, there is a period when s/he will not test positive for HIV but can infect other people. This is what is known as the ‘window period’.
The ‘Window Period’ is that time between risky sexual behaviour (eg. random unprotected sex or sharing needles or syringes in drug use with persons), actual infection and the time it takes for your immune system to develop antibodies. This period can last up to 3 months after your most recent unprotected sexual encounter or risky activity. You must grasp that last bit.
Get out your calendar and let’s do some work using the example of *Tiffany [* Tiffany is just a random choice of name and not an actual person I know.]
Tiffany is a single young Christian woman who is very active in her church. In April 2008 she went to a party with some friends from university and met this really cute guy. Well he wasn’t that committed to church but he was such a nice guy. So they got to talking and a month later they went out and well things got a little heavy. Ok plenty heavy!
She confided in her best friend who told her to go do a blood test for HIV since the guy used no protection. Finally, after a month of anxiety and stress, wondering who might recognize her at the local laboratory she went to another town.
Let’s say, Tiff’s risky behaviour was May 10, 2008. That’s the day her Window Period begins. Its the time of exposure and infection if the person she was intimate with was HIV positive. ** Note carefully that her partner might be HIV negative but might also be in a ‘window period’ so could in fact be infected and doesn’t know!
Tiff finally did her test a month (30 days) later on June 9th. She went to a lab where she got no counselling and no one told her about anything called a Window Period. She went back the following day and picked up her results. It said negative.
Should Tiffany dance a jig and shout Hallelujah? Should she take that test result as conclusive that she is HIV negative? NO!
Tiffany is still in the ‘window period’.
Between 21-28 days/3-4 weeks and up to 6 weeks it is possible to detect the antibodies mentioned earlier in the blood. So one can know from that time if you are HIV positive. BUT not all persons show antibodies that early. It depends on your immune system. It has been established though that 3 months is sufficiently long for antibodies to be seen if you are HIV positive.
But Tiffany couldn’t find any peace and so she confessed to me her pastor who is a trained Voluntary Counselling and Testing Provider. [Yes that part is real. No not the confession the training bit. I am honest to goodness trained]. My first responsibility was to explain this window period to Tiffany and prepare her for a second test and the implications of her result. I supported her during the longest 2 months of her life and finally she goes back to the lab for a second test in August.
Tiffany does her second test at the end of the window period.
So Tiffany goes back to the lab in August, 3 months later for a second blood test for HIV and it came out positive! Tiffany was devastated…
Important Things to note:
If Tifanny’s results had come back negative after 3 months then she could have safely concluded that she was really negative. Some persons do another test in 6 months just to make sure. Health authorities assure us that is not necessary, but do what helps to give you ease of mind. However, 3 months is good enough.
But note this – If Tiffany had had another unprotected encounter July 25, and got back a negative result in August her August result would only be for the May encounter NOT the one in July. She would now have to do a third test 3 months later to be certain that she was still negative. I hope you now see the enormity of the problem.
IF after 3 months, the window period, you tested negative and during that time you did not engage in any other risky behaviour then you can take your result as conclusive. But most importantly – Do not put yourself at risk again. But if you cannot do so right away (addiction or unfaithful spouse) then develop strategies to eliminate the risk little by little. I might have to do another post to deal with that.
Can you see why the fight is necessary to work on Educating persons, and for promoting prevention?
Hope this helps. Do not hesitate to leave a comment or send me an email. Get my contact details on the About page of this Blog.
Be safe! Get Tested and know your status. And if you are really negative,