HIV test procedure

Three types of HIV test are offered in Switzerland: the rapid test, the laboratory test, and the home (self) test.

Three types of HIV test are offered in Switzerland: the rapid test, the laboratory test, and the home (self) test.

The rapid HIV test is offered in testing centres and quickly delivers a reliable result. This has the advantage that, if the result is positive, the person concerned can immediately receive individual counselling. The result of a laboratory test takes rather longer – not because the test itself is slower, but because of the administrative processes involved. Home testing (also known as self testing) has been permitted in Switzerland since 2018, meaning that you can test yourself in private. This type of test makes sense if the possible exposure to HIV occurred more than three months in the past.

The Swiss AIDS Federation recommends that anyone who has been at risk and who wants to know whether or not they have been infected with HIV be tested at a testing centre or doctor’s surgery.

What does the test involve?

Combination tests in the form of rapid tests are used nowadays in Switzerland. These tests detect both antibodies and components of the virus in the blood. As the test is fast, it is used at testing centres and to some extent by doctors as part of a counselling session. Results are available in around twenty minutes.

How soon can I have a test after exposure?

An HIV combination test can provide initial results at the earliest two weeks after possible exposure. A confirmed positive HIV test result is deemed to be reliable. However, only a test conducted six weeks after possible exposure can safely rule out an HIV infection, because some people take up to six weeks to form antibodies against HIV. Therefore, even if the first HIV test result is negative, the test must be repeated six weeks or more after exposure. A Checkpoint or regional AIDS centre can give you advice.

Home tests detect antibodies only, and show results at the earliest three months after possible exposure. These tests are available in pharmacies and drugstores.

What is the difference between a rapid test and a laboratory test?

The rapid HIV test gives a result within twenty minutes. By contrast, it takes around three days before you get the results of a laboratory test. The test itself is no slower, but the blood sample has to be sent off to a laboratory and the result subsequently returned.

Can I do an HIV test at home?

Yes. A good home test will satisfy the following requirements:

  • The patient information leaflet that comes with every home HIV test provides information on HIV/AIDS that is applicable to Switzerland. The leaflet is printed in Switzerland's four national languages and in English.
  • The quality of home HIV tests is assured by independent laboratories.
  • Anyone whose test is positive will know where they can turn for advice, irrespective of their age, sex, sexual orientation, nationality or immigration status.

Home tests can also be bought over the internet, but be very careful of cheap products and tests which are not subject to quality controls!