Article updated: 24th March 2023

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), is a virus that weakens the body’s ability to fight infection as well as the body’s immune system. According to the NHS, around 80% of people who test positive for HIV experience flu-like symptoms around two-four weeks following the initial infection [1]. Though, once these symptoms disappear, it’s common to not notice any indicators at all - making it quite easy for some people to be living with HIV without knowing.

HIV occurs in three stages, each of which brings with it different symptoms while some show little to no symptoms at all. This makes it easy for HIV to go undiscovered and emphasizes the importance of regularly screening your sexual health and getting tested. These stages and symptoms include:

Stage 1 (Acute or Primary HIV infection)

Some may feel flu-like symptoms while some may experience no symptoms at all.

Stage 2 (Chronic HIV infection)

It’s common to experience no symptoms. This stage can last almost 10-15 years without appropriate treatment and is sometimes referred to as asymptomatic HIV infection.

Stage 3 (Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS))

The most severe of the stages, when HIV develops into AIDS, the immune system is badly damaged and the risk of severe illnesses increases.

See also: HIV Stages: What are the Stages of HIV?

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Can you have HIV for 20 years and not know?

While it’s common for people with HIV to experience symptoms similar to the flu after a few weeks of the initial infection, some people may experience no symptoms at all during the early stages of HIV.

If a person with HIV goes undiagnosed and the virus develops into stage 2, HIV will continue to develop and may last for 10-15 years without the appropriate HIV testing and treatment [2]. It’s important to note that this stage can also bring with it little to no symptoms and people may not even feel sick.

The only way to know your HIV status is to get tested. This can be done by visiting your local HIV testing centre, your local doctor, or from home with an at-home lab test. Early detection is crucial to getting prompt treatment and going on to lead both a happy and healthy life.

See also: What is the Treatment for HIV?

Can HIV be dormant and test negative?

Knowing your HIV status is crucial to ensuring both you and your partner remain healthy. One of the best ways to do this is to get tested. There are three forms of tests used to detect HIV, each of which can detect the infection after a specific window period, these typically include [3]:

Nucleic acid test (NAT)

This test can detect HIV around 10-30 days following infection.

Antigen/antibody test

This test can detect HIV between 18-45 days after infection.

HIV antibody tests

This test can detect HIV around 23-90 days after infection.

It is possible to receive a false-negative result if you are outside the window period - this means you may have been infected recently but aren’t yet producing HIV antibodies [4]. It’s important to discuss these potentially false-negative results with your doctor, particularly if you believe you may be at risk of HIV. In these situations, repeat testing is usually recommended to confirm an individual’s HIV status.

See also: HIV Viral Load: What is HIV Viral Load?

How long does it take for HIV to show up?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), early-stage HIV symptoms typically occur around two-six weeks following exposure [5]. With that in mind, the majority of people with HIV will develop antibodies around this time and should test positive if they have the infection.

See also: Can I Boost my CD4 Count?

What does it mean if HIV viral load is undetectable?

Although there is currently no cure for HIV, the right HIV treatment (the most common being Antiretroviral therapy or ART) can help to increase CD4 count and at times an undetectable viral load.

Viral load is the term used to describe the levels of the virus in the body. When treatment is taken correctly, viral load can become so low that it’s referred to as ‘undetectable’. While this does not mean that HIV has been cured, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it does mean that there is no longer a risk of passing the virus on to a partner during sex.

It’s important to remember that many people with HIV infection may experience little to no symptoms - making it easy for the virus to go unnoticed and undiagnosed. Early detection of HIV and the correct HIV treatment and medication is key to going on to live a healthy life, which is why regular screening of your sexual health is crucial. Testing can be done with your local healthcare provider or from home with an at-home lab test.

LetsGetChecked’s at-home STI Tests detect some of the most common sexually transmitted infections. The blood test for HIV involves a simple finger-prick sample and online results will be available within 2-5 days. Our dedicated medical team will be available throughout the process to provide medical advice, support, and guidance.

You consider taking a test if:

  • You should also consider getting tested if:
  • You become sexually active
  • You have had unprotected sex
  • You are experiencing symptoms of a sexually transmitted infection
  • You are entering into a new sexual relationship
  • You have received a notification from a previous partner that they are infected (STIs can remain dormant for years and/ or take up to three weeks to become detectable.)

See also: How do you Check for HIV From Home?

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Buy an At- Home Sexual Health Test

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  1. NHS. HIV and AIDS. Online:, 2018
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About HIV. Online:, 2020
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Types of HIV Tests. Online:, 2020
  4. World Health Organization. Fact Sheet 1 HIV/AIDS: the infection. Online:
  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About HIV. Online:, 2020