HIV Window Period: Negative Result later becomes positive: How?

HIV window period is the time it takes to get an accurate result when you do a HIV test after infection. However, you should not delay in getting tested if you think you may be exposed to HIV.

There is this question that a number of persons have asked, concerning prospective couples who had a HIV test before marriage and they were certified HIV Negative, only for one of them or both of them, months into the marriage to fall sick, and be tested negative. Note that, neither of them cheated or had affairs outside the marriage.

Previously, we wrote on the Premarital tests you should do before marriage and the importance of doing those tests. HIV is one of those tests. If you missed that, read about the medical tests you must do before marriage here.

Let us explain with this story:

When Chidimma & Adekunle met at the gates of UNILAG, It was love at first sight, they dated and later decided to marry, they ran some premarital tests.

HIV/AIDS: Both tested negative

They married, Chidimma got pregnant, they went for antenatal care and all hell broke loose!. The Antenatal results showed that Chidimma was “HIV POSITIVE”, It was a shocker, the tests was repeated but still POSITIVE.

They separated but Adekunle continued to take care of her because she was carrying their child. 4 months later. He tested POSITIVE!. WHAT HAPPENED?

I will explain.

What is HIV window period

A little Introduction:
When a person contracts HIV, HIV tests would not be able to detect it immediately after its contracted. The body’s immune system (military) begins to develop antibodies (soldiers) to fight the HIV. This development of HIV antibodies by the body is called “Seroconversion”.

Now any test done immediately after contracting the virus and before the body starts developing antibodies will be NEGATIVE, even though the person is POSITIVE!. It’s called a “False Negative Result”.
This is because, the test for HIV basically tests for the presence of HIV antibodies in the person’s blood.

A POSITIVE HIV test will appear when the body makes enough HIV antibodies.

How Long Can It Take For The Body To Produce Antibodies?

The period between when a person contracts HIV and when the person can become positive, that is, when tests can detect the infection is called a “HIV Window Period”.

The HIV Window Period can take anytime from zero to six (0-6) months after the person was infected. You’re only negative the day you did the test.

HIV Window Period
Image Credit: Medlog

Can HIV Be Transmitted During The HIV Window Period?

YES!. HIV can be transmitted even when one is on the HIV window period and the tests are negative. During this period, the viral load is high and the body has not produced enough antibodies so the risk of transmission is HIGH!

What Should I Do If My Partner Is HIV POSITIVE?

If you had unprotected sex with an HIV positive person, rush to the nearest clinic where you can be offered some medications meant to protect you from this exposure. This medication is known as PEP (Post Exposure Prophylaxis). It should be given to you within 72hrs of exposure. That is, it must be taken before 72hrs after the unprotected sexual intercourse and it can prevent HIV infection.

I’m Pregnant and Positive, What do I do Next?

Once you are confirmed to be HIV positive on Antenatal screening, you will be placed on drugs that would prevent you from passing it to your unborn child. The earlier this is started, the better result you can get.

What Can Cause Negative HIV Results When One Is Positive.

  1. HIV Window Period: This has been explained above. It is the period from when the person is infected till when the person starts developing the antibodies. The person can still pass the infection during this HIV window period.
  2. If the person is on drugs (Antiviral Drugs): These drugs given by a doctor would help to reduce the viral load to an extent where it doesn’t show in test strips, and also reduces the chances of the person passing the infection.

In Summary
So for Chidimma, it’s means that she was either in her HIV window period or she was on AIDS drugs i.e (ARV) during the time when the test was done, that made her result before the wedding test negative.

During her antenatal care registration, her body had built up enough antibodies so the HIV result became POSITIVE. The husband was infected during the wife’s window period and his result only turned positive after 3 months.

Prevention of this Scenario

It’s always good to recheck any HIV tests done at least three (3) months after the first test was done, to be sure. Also, the importance of the Antenatal care for pregnant women can never be overemphasized. Read on the benefits of Antenatal care here.

Finally, HIV is NEVER a death sentence, it can be managed, and the person would live a relatively long & healthy life like others. So, get tested, take your drugs and live life! Read more about HIV here.

For details on how to do HIV tests, cost & where to do them, click here.

Things to Know

  1. If you think you may be exposed to HIV, See a doctor immediately, do not be ashamed.
  2. Practice the habit of knowing your partners HIV status for people who are having sex.
  3.  When pregnant, It’s important to test for HIV. This would help you to avoid passing the virus on to your baby.
  4. A ‘window period’ is the time it takes to get an accurate result when you do a HIV test after infection. However, you should not delay in getting tested if you think you may be exposed to HIV.

Feel free to ask any questions you might have below.

Authors

  • Dr. Echibuogu Nelson Tochukwu currently works as a medical officer at Prince Of Peace Specialist Hospital in Lagos. He holds an MBBS Degree from the Abia State University. He is a story teller, script writer and a lover of sport. You can follow him on twitter below.

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