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What to Do If You Had Unprotected Sex?

Written by
Dr. Lohit Chauhan
and medically reviewed by iCliniq medical review team.

Published on Feb 21, 2019   -  2 min read



The dilemma of having an HIV infection can be traumatic, there are ways by which you can prevent HIV infection even after getting exposed. The article focuses on the time for getting tested and when to start prophylaxis for HIV.

What to Do If You Had Unprotected Sex?

If you had unprotected sexual intercourse and you are not sure of your partner's HIV status, then what should be done. First of all, never let that thing happen to you ever again (Prevention is better than cure). Always use some barrier method. Here, our topic will focus on instructions and things to do after you have been exposed.

The things to be kept in mind are as follows:

  • Get your partner and yourself tested for HIV, and if any of you is positive, start post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) within 72 hours of exposure. PEP can help prevent HIV infection from getting transferred, but it is not 100% reliable. One can still get HIV after being on PEP, but a significant amount reduces the chances if PEP is started on time.
  • If you cannot get your partner tested or do not know their HIV status, in that case, you can start PEP considering the nature of sexual contact. MSM (men having sex with men) and commercial sex workers are high-risk cases.

How and When to Get Yourself Tested Again?

HIV, like many infections, gets transferred from one host to another and the body tries to fight it. So initially, no test can detect HIV infection immediately.

The time between when a person has been exposed to HIV and when a test can tell for sure whether they have HIV is called the "window period." The window period can vary from person to person. Also, it depends on the type of test used for detection. There are many tests to detect HIV, some are described in brief here.

  1. 1st Generation - uses infected viral cell breakdown products as antigen.
  2. 2nd Generation - uses glycopeptides (recombinant antigens) from the HIV virus.
  3. 3rd Generation - synthetic peptides are used as antigens.
  4. 4th Generation - simultaneously detects the p24 antigen, HIV-1 and HIV-2 antibodies, and nucleic acid based tests.

Some Facts About HIV Tests:

  • The nucleic acid test (NAT) can usually tell if you have HIV infection, 10 to 33 days after exposure.
  • An antigen or antibody test performed by a lab on blood from a vein can usually detect HIV infection 18 to 45 days after exposure.
  • Antigen or antibody tests done with blood from a finger prick usually take longer to detect HIV. It takes about 18 to 90 days after exposure.
  • When our purpose is to tell for sure that a person does not have HIV, an antigen or antibody test performed by a lab on blood from a vein is preferred.
  • Antibody tests usually take 23 to 90 days to detect HIV infection.
  • The rapid tests (kits) and home tests are antibody tests, in general, antibody tests use blood from a vein can detect HIV sooner after infection than tests done with blood from a finger prick or with oral fluids.

What to Do After the Initial Test for HIV Is Negative?

  • Once you are tested negative with one of the above tests, get yourself tested again after the "window period" for the test you are taking to be sure.
  • If you used an antigen or antibody test performed by a lab on blood from a vein, you should get tested 45 days again after your last exposure.
  • For other tests, you should test again at least 90 days (3 months) after your most recent exposure to tell for sure if you have HIV.

Hope this helps all those worrisome persons, who are in the dilemma of having HIV infection or not.


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Last reviewed at:
21 Feb 2019  -  2 min read


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