Rapid HIV tests

‘Rapid’ HIV tests are performed with devices that provide results within approximately 20 minutes.

Rapid HIV tests are used in testing laboratories, and are now also used by some services for HIV testing in the community.

The window period (the time it can take from when someone becomes infected until a test can detect the infection) is generally a little longer for rapid HIV tests than for laboratory tests.

Rapid HIV tests are therefore not generally recommended for people who may have been recently exposed to HIV and they are advised to have a laboratory test instead.

A ‘reactive’ (or preliminary positive) result on a rapid HIV test is not a diagnosis of HIV infection, as rapid HIV tests produce a small number of false positive results. For this reason, a reactive rapid HIV test result must always be confirmed by laboratory tests.

Due to this slightly higher rate of false positive results, rapid HIV tests are not generally recommended for populations with low HIV prevalence, as rapid tests will give higher rates of false positive results among these populations. In Australia therefore, rapid HIV testing is predominantly targeted to gay men and other men who have sex with men.

A number of sexual health centres and GPs offer rapid HIV testing and some specialist rapid HIV testing sites have opened around Australia.

View list of current rapid HIV testing services.

Most rapid HIV tests detect HIV antibodies; however some tests can also test for the presence of the virus itself – these can be more accurate in detecting recent HIV infections.

Rapid HIV tests have been available for use in non-laboratory settings and for self-testing or home use in many countries for some time. 

In December 2012 Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), Australia’s regulatory body for medical drugs and devices, approved one rapid HIV test device for use in Australia outside laboratories.

In June 2015, two more rapid HIV test devices were also approved by the TGA. These tests can be operated by clinical staff or other appropriately trained and supervised staff in HIV and STI testing services provided by HIV community organisations.

Until 2014, regulatory restrictions prohibited self-testing devices for HIV from being approved by the TGA. These restrictions have been lifted but as yet no rapid HIV tests have yet been approved by the TGA for self-use (or home use).