MN, M.D.: I Heard HIV Can Remain Undetected For 10 Years, How Often Should I Be Getting Tested?

February 25, 2013  |  

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Q: I recently heard that HIV can remain dormant and undetected in your body for up to 10 years. If that’s true, what would you recommend as far as a testing schedule whether you’re single or with a monogamous partner?

It may take up to 10 years or more for someone to have AIDS. AIDS, as you may know, is the final stages of the disease, when the HIV virus damages a person’s body to the point where they start to get infections that healthy people don’t usually get. An example of a type of infection seen a lot in AIDS patients is Pneumocystis jiroveci pneumonia (aka PCP).

The way HIV works is that once a person gets infected with the virus, it takes about 4 to 10 weeks before it can be detected in the blood (aka seroconversion).  For a small group of people, it may even be more than that.  At that time, the person may or may not be experiencing any symptoms. But if they are, they may complain about such things as a fever, headache, sore throat, general muscle aches, weight loss, or diarrhea.  During this period of time, the virus is heavily present and the body is trying to fight it by making antibodies against the HIV virus. Most HIV tests look for the antibodies so even if the HIV virus remains dormant and undetected, a person’s HIV status can be picked up by these tests through existing antibodies.

What would be the best testing schedule? The CDC recommends that everyone between ages 13 – 64 should be tested. A repeat testing should be done if you have a new sexual partner. Ideally, it would be best to wait 3 months after the 1st sexual contact with your new partner.  What would be even better is if you have your new partner tested before you even consider sleeping with him or her.  People who are at very high risk for HIV (homosexual males, IV drug users, and those with multiple sex partners) are recommended to be tested every 6 to 12 months.

What can also take up to 10 years in HIV? The average amount of years an HIV-infected person who refuses treatment has from the moment the virus is seen in the blood.

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