Raped — HIV status?

Originally Published: February 24, 1995 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: April 5, 2013
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Dear Alice,

I was raped by my boyfriend several years ago. He had many other women, from what I understand. Three years after the rape, I was tested for the AIDS virus; it was negative. Should I be tested again now, nearly nine years later? What are the chances it would be positive now if it wasn't before? I've been married for five years; the rape was the ONLY possibility I have had of being exposed to the AIDS virus.

—Worried

Dear Worried,

As you know, rape, sexual assault, and other nonconsensual sexual interactions may cause long-lasting emotional, sexual, and physical health ramifications. Remaining a bit anxious about this event several years after it occurred is perfectly normal and understandable. Although there is absolutely no harm in taking another HIV test to give you peace of mind, there is almost no chance that the virus seroconverted nine years post-exposure. In other words, your first HIV test should be sufficient unless you have been exposed to the HIV virus since the possible exposure you refer to in your question. Read Routes of HIV transmission for more information on how HIV can be contracted. Your risk level is even closer to zero if your boyfriend was HIV-negative at the time of your rape. Although your boyfriend may have had many other sex partners, that doesn’t mean he was infected with HIV.

HIV tests work by detecting HIV antibodies produced by the immune system post-infection. It takes time for these antibodies to develop, but in general, the HIV antibodies typically appear in blood test results within two to eight weeks post-exposure. In fact, 97 percent of infected individuals will produce detectable antibodies within three months of infection. In a very few rare cases, it may take up to six months for HIV antibodies to appear on an HIV test. However, unless your first test was a false negative, which is highly improbable, three years should have been more than enough time for any antibodies to appear on the HIV test you took.

For others who may have been exposed to the HIV virus, it’s a good idea to get tested at three and six months post-exposure for verification. There are blood, urine, and saliva tests for HIV. Some tests are conventional, meaning they have a one to two week turnaround time; others are rapid, and can give you results in about 20 minutes. You can choose to be tested in a clinic or use an at-home sample collection kit that can be mailed to a laboratory. If you test positive, you must have a confirmatory HIV test to verify a positive HIV status.

To find a clinic that conducts HIV tests near you, check out the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s HIV testing locator. If you’re a Columbia student on the Morningside campus, the Gay Health Advocacy Project is a fantastic resource for testing and information about HIV/AIDS. They also have free and confidential drop-in HIV testing hours. In addition, you can contact Medical Services on the Morningside campus or Student Health at the Medical Center to get a health care provider’s advice. If you’ve been raped, molested, or sexually assaulted, don’t hesitate to reach out to Columbia’s Sexual Violence Response team, as well as Counseling and Psychological Services on the Morningside campus and Mental Health Services at the Medical Center for support.

Take care,

Alice