If a person tested negative for HIV but is still scared, they may have taken the test within the window period. This is the time between possible exposure to HIV and when the test can accurately detect it.

When someone has negative results within this window, they must take a second test after this time to determine whether they have HIV. Therefore, it is typical for them to feel anxious until they get definitive results.

Approximately 1.2 million individuals in the United States have HIV. Additionally, some have not received a diagnosis, so testing is the first step toward maintaining health and preventing transmission.

This article discusses testing negative for HIV and why people who experience this may still be scared. It also offers tips for dealing with anxiety during HIV testing, provides sources of support, and answers FAQs.

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Testing negative for HIV does not necessarily mean someone does not have the infection. While the tests are accurate, none of them can detect the virus immediately after exposure.

There are three types of HIV tests, each with a window period, which is the time between exposure and when the test is able to detect the virus.

Below are the tests and the length of the window period for each:

  • Antibody tests: These detect antibodies to HIV in someone’s blood or oral fluid. Antibodies are substances the immune system produces in response to virus exposure. The antibody tests have a window of 23–90 days.
  • Antigen or antibody tests: These detect an antigen that HIV produces and the antibodies the immune system produces in response to the virus. The tests have a window of 18–45 days with blood that a technician draws from a vein. However, the window is 18–90 days in the rapid version of the tests, which involves blood from a finger prick.
  • Nucleic acid tests: These tests detect HIV in the blood and have a window of 10–33 days.

To confirm negative results, a doctor tests a person again after the window period for that test. If the individual has had no possible exposure to the virus during this time, and the results are negative, they do not have HIV.

The uncertainty of not knowing if the negative results will hold up can cause a person to feel scared.

According to an older 2016 study, anxiety is common during HIV testing. However, they can take part in some anxiety-reducing techniques, which include:

  • exercise
  • meditation — a practice of training attention to produce a calm emotional state
  • mindfulness — a practice of being fully present in the moment, which involves awareness of feelings, thoughts, and the environment

When these measures do not reduce anxiety sufficiently, a person can consider talking with a mental health professional.

Additionally, it helps to remember that knowledge of the results is empowering during testing. If testing confirms that someone does not have HIV, they can take action to prevent themselves from contracting the virus. Conversely, if testing shows they are positive for HIV, people can start treatment, which may enable them to remain healthy for many years.

When an individual gets a positive HIV test, it may feel overwhelming. The first step after testing positive is finding a suitable healthcare provider to provide treatment.

Below are some places a person can visit to find support:

Learn more about the next steps after an HIV diagnosis.

Below are some commonly asked questions and their answers on this topic:

Can someone have HIV and still test negative?

Yes, this can happen because HIV tests cannot detect the virus in the days that immediately follow exposure. If people test negative during this time, which healthcare professionals call a window period, they could still have HIV.

Can someone test negative and still have symptoms?

Yes, a person could test negative during the window period yet be HIV positive. If so, they could have symptoms.

What might influence an HIV test result?

Certain HIV tests are less sensitive. These include the rapid blood test and the oral test. An HIV test involving blood from a vein is necessary to confirm the results of these tests.

Additionally, an autoimmune condition, such as lupus, can cause a false positive test result. That said, HIV tests have few false positives.

An individual who tested negative for HIV but is still scared is experiencing a natural reaction to the uncertainty of not knowing if their test results are accurate.

There is a window period between the time of HIV exposure and the time when a test can detect the virus. For this reason, a test someone takes during this period needs a second test afterward for confirmation, which may result in a stressful wait.

During this time, it may help to take part in regular exercise or engage in mindfulness. However, someone can consult a mental health professional if such measures do not relieve anxiety. Additional support can come from toll-free hotlines, federal agencies, and support groups.