All about rapid HIV testing – a quick prick does the trick

By Chris Williams, updated 1 year ago in Health / Sexual health

Smiling man having a takeaway coffee

Just imagine what you could accomplish with a little prick and 20 minutes… A rapid HIV test, of course! They’re fast, free, discreet and convenient, so you can enjoy spending the other 1420 minutes of your day doing whatever floats your boat.

Why get a rapid HIV test?

There are huge benefits from getting tested. Knowing if you’ve acquired HIV immediately empowers you to choose what to do about it, such as considering an HIV treatment plan or seeking support. If knowledge is power, knowing your HIV status means you get to be in charge of managing your ongoing wellbeing, as well as preventing onward transmission to other people.

Living with untreated HIV can result in serious health complications, though these can be avoided by knowing your HIV status and consulting with a specialist doctor to choose a course of action that works best for you.

Findings from the START study have shown that commencing HIV treatment as soon as possible increases health and life expectancy, and prevents serious illness including cancer, renal and liver disease by more than 50 per cent compared to those who delay starting treatment. Importantly, the study results confirm that there is no harm associated with immediate treatment. More on early or immediate HIV treatment in our Knowledge Hub.

“…knowing your status means you get to be in charge of managing your ongoing wellbeing,”

Going for a rapid HIV test is a quick and convenient way for you to be in the know and on top of your long term health. 20 minutes is all it takes for you to be confident in knowing your status, whatever the outcome.

What happens when you go for a rapid HIV test?

Going for a rapid HIV test is a straightforward and streamlined experience. Some places offer a walk-in service, but if you’ve booked an appointment you can even be in and out in just 20 minutes!

Pre-test questionnaire

You can expect to answer a few questions about recent sexual activity and number of partners — and it’s OK to be honest here; nobody’s looking to judge your behaviours or raise an eyebrow at your recent tally. Some rapid HIV testing locations are staffed by other gay and bisexual guys who are well versed in helping you feel comfortable talking about sex. Check out our guide on talking to a doctor.

“Going for a rapid HIV test is a straightforward and streamlined experience.”

Sample collection

Then it’s a simple matter of taking a very modest blood sample from a finger prick in private — it’s quick and surprisingly unremarkable. The test facilitator will take care of the rest.

Test processing

Using the sample they’ve gathered, they’ll typically dab a single drop of your blood onto a chemically reactive strip of paper embedded in the rapid HIV testing kit.

Next, it’s a case of waiting for the test to develop and your test facilitator will explain the result once it’s ready.

To see what it’s like to get a rapid HIV test, watch Prince Harry getting one done at a sexual health clinic in London.

Prince Harry gets tested for HIV

How are results from a rapid HIV test given?

After at least a 10 minute wait, the rapid HIV test will have finished developing. The test facilitator will look at the testing kit to determine the results for you. There can be three possible outcomes. Test facilitators are trained in interpreting these and will explain what your result means for you.


The test shows it worked correctly and has not chemically reacted to the blood sample provided. This means you are HIV negative as of 12 weeks ago. Rapid HIV tests are sensitive to a window period of up to 12 weeks — a window period is the time between when your body comes into contact with HIV and when it will then show up on a test if you have acquired it.

Going for a test at least every three months is recommended for all sexually active guys.


The test shows it worked correctly and has chemically reacted to the blood sample provided. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean it’s an HIV positive result. In this event, the test facilitator will usually discuss gathering a full blood sample for more precise laboratory testing which will provide a conclusive HIV negative or HIV positive result.

What’s important to know is that while rapid HIV tests are exceptionally good at what they do, they’re not entirely infallible. The tests are so sensitive, meaning they might ever so occasionally provide a ‘false-positive’ result. For this reason, the results of a reactive rapid HIV test cannot medically or legally be considered a confirmed HIV positive test result — confirmation from a laboratory test is required, which will take up to one week.

Rapid HIV tests work by checking for the presence of HIV antibodies in a blood sample. Although rare, it’s possible that a rapid HIV test produces a false-positive result. This can potentially happen if your immune system has already produced various other antibodies in response to different infections such as chlamydia, syphilis, malaria, tuberculosis, or even if you’ve had a recent flu vaccination. These other antibodies have the potential to provoke a reaction from the rapid HIV testing kits, even when there are no HIV antibodies present.


The test shows it didn’t work correctly. This isn’t very common and may be due to a problem with the testing equipment itself, how it’s been used or something else. In this event another test can be performed using a fresh sample of blood and a different rapid HIV testing kit.

Where to go for a rapid HIV test and comprehensive sexual health tests

Going for regular rapid HIV tests is a great way to help manage your sexual health, but it’s also important to go for regular comprehensive sexual health testing for other STIs such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis and Hepatitis C.

Some rapid HIV test facilities also offer the opportunity to test for these STIs, so speak to the helpful staff there to find out what’s best for you. To discover more, check out Eight reasons why you should get an STI test, even if you don’t think you need one.

“…it’s also important to go for regular comprehensive sexual health testing for other STIs,”

You can find your nearest sexual health testing service, including rapid HIV testing facilities using Emen8’s interactive map. For details of other types of HIV testing available, including HIV self testing kits, check out or Knowledge Hub.

You can also contact your local AIDS council or LGBTI health organisation in your state or territory to find out more about LGBTI friendly testing services.

Remember that although we don’t yet have a cure for HIV, there are many highly effective, convenient and well tolerated treatment options, as well as support groups and services. If you’re in need of support after testing positive for HIV, peer-run community group The Institute of Many (TIM) provides resources online, and via the TIM Facebook group, or contact one of your local HIV positive organisations.