HIV RNA Test Window Period

What is the Window Period for HIV RNA Testing?

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The HIV RNA Test can yield accurate results beginning 9-11 days after exposure.

To obtain the earliest possible results, your fastest option is easily the HIV RNA (viral load) test. The test is affordable and allows for peace of mind by knowing your status with accuracy.

What is RNA?

RNA stands for Ribonucleic Acid. RNA’s top role is to act as a sort of messenger, conveying instructions for protein synthesis from DNA. In some viruses, RNA carries genetic information, instead of DNA.

RNA in HIV: HIV’s genetic material is composed of RNA, rather than DNA. Specific lines of RNA can be detected by Nucleic Acid Testing (NAT). . HIV RNA testing is also known as NAT testing.

How it Works: Why So Early?

Ever since the FDA approved the first Antibody test related to the HIV virus, Antibody tests have been the most popular and common testing method for HIV since. The problem with these tests are the later testing windows, which measure the body's reaction to the virus, (the production of antibodies) and not the virus in itself. Antibodies to the HIV often take up to 3 weeks to be produced.

The HIV RNA (viral load) test, on the other hand, measures the amount of virus itself in the body directly. More specifically, the HIV RNA tests measure genetic material known as RNA in blood plasma.

What is Viral Load?

Viral load is the amount of virus in the body at any given time. When referring to HIV or AIDS, patients want their viral load to be as low as possible. Today, it is possible with proper medical treatment to get a patient's viral load so low it can no longer be detectable on viral load tests, and it becomes very difficult to transmit the virus to others.

The goal of today’s treatment is to in fact decrease viral load to undetectable levels, by slowing, and often stopping, the progression of the virus. Unfortunately, we can’t yet eliminate the virus altogether, and stopping treatment will cause the virus to rebound; thus making the viral load increase.

When is HIV RNA Testing Used?

HIV RNA testing used to be utilized in situations where a person participated in high risk activities and the chances of possible infection were very high. Now, HIV RNA testing can be used by anyone who believes they may have been exposed to the HIV and want to know their status as soon as possible.

Other Testing Window Periods

When choosing an Antibody test, a person must wait at least 3-4 weeks after possible exposure for the test to be accurate, because that’s how long it takes the body to produce antibodies against the HIV.

Questions and Answers

Q: I think I might have caught HIV this past weekend, but it was only a couple days ago.

Unfortunately, there is no way to know for sure whether or not you’ve contracted HIV within the past 72 hours, as there currently is no test that can detect the presence of the virus this early. Your best course of action is to make an appointment with your health care provider and discuss your full range of options. You can also be seen at any free clinic. Though they may or may not be able to test for this, the physician will easily be able to provide advice and explanations.

Q: I have had many partners these past few months and might have caught HIV from one of them.

Antibody tests are 99.7% accurate 3 months after exposure, while the HIV RNA test is equally effective now. Look for acute symptoms that may have been present over a month ago. The most common symptoms of this early acute phase are:

  • Body rashes
  • Sore throats
  • Fever
  • Severe headaches

If you may have had any of those symptoms and are now asymptomatic, it is important that you seek testing now.

Q: Where can I get HIV tested?

Testing for many diseases had always been ordered by a Physician, Clinic or Healthcare Provider at Community Health Centers, etc after being examined. Now that healthcare is becoming more patient centered, several items are being made available to patients prior to seeing a Physician. Screening tests for Sexually Transmitted Diseases and HIV are now available at Laboratory testing centers across the US that do not require a Physician’s order.

If you believe that you may have been exposed to the HIV, order your test here and know your status as soon as possible.

Conclusion: Importance of Early Detection

The earlier HIV is found, the earlier treatment can be started. That means better health care and greater quality of life!

Additional Resources

American Psychological Associationwww.apa.orgThe American Psychological Association provides information, training and technical assistance on a wide range of subjects related to HIV/AIDS.
Delaware Health Care Commissiondhss.delaware.govThe Delaware Health Care Commission is responsible for government-wide management, education and training for HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment.
MedlinePluswww.medlineplus.govMedlinePlus provides valuable and high-quality information on HIV and AIDS.
World Health Organizationwww.who.intWorld Health Organization directs and coordinates the world’s response to HIV/AIDS. provides vital HIV services where they are most needed.


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