Two Sides of the Same Coin: HIV-1 and HIV-2 Testing

HIV is a touchy subject for most sexually active people. Everyone knows that the threat of contracting HIV is real, but many people still don’t know the basics about the virus that has become a pandemic across the world.

An HIV diagnosis was once considered a death sentence because doctors were not equipped to treat the disease. Although modern medicine has advanced enough to take away the life or death nature of HIV when it is detected early and treated with antiretroviral medication, the associated stigma is still there. Many people learn the basics about HIV, but most are unaware that there are two types: HIV-1 and HIV-2.

HIV-1 and HIV-2 Transmission

HIV-1 is often referred to as simply HIV and is known worldwide. HIV-2 is prevalent mostly in West Africa and has not been widely seen outside of Africa. Unprotected sexual contact, such as anal, oral and vaginal sex and the introduction of blood infected with HIV-1 or -2 into the bloodstream through sharing used syringes or getting amateur tattoos with dirty needles are the common transmission categories for both types of HIV. While they can be contracted in the same way, the management of each type differs greatly.

HIV-1 and HIV-2 Testing

It is important to get tested for both HIV-1 and HIV-2 due to the high number of travelers that enter and exit the United States from all over the world, including West Africa, India, and Europe, where HIV-2 is more common. If you travel to these parts of the world, testing for HIV-2 is especially important because many tests only search for HIV-1.

An HIV antibody test diagnoses HIV by measuring the levels of HIV antibodies in the body. An antibody is a substance produced in the blood in response to a virus. Antibodies protect the body from disease by attaching to viruses and destroying them. The HIV Antibody Test searches for these antibodies against the HIV-1 and 2 viruses. Most people produce detectable levels of antibodies within 25 days of exposure to the virus. It is important to wait for at least this long before getting tested in order for the test to detect these antibodies and not result in a false diagnosis.

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HIV Early Detection Test

The best test available for HIV-1 is the HIV Early Detection test from This test uses RNA-based technology to directly screen for HIV in the blood, rather than measure antibody levels. It is the most accurate test on the market. Testing is possible as soon as 9 to 11 days after exposure and conclusive results are delivered one to two days after testing. Unlike other DNA-based early detection tests on the market, this RNA-based test is FDA-approved.

Medically Reviewed by on August 16, 2023

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Author: Kristena Ducre

Kristena is a sex-positive LGBTQ ally and general fan of sexy things. As a writer, she is passionate about empowering people's sex lives with accurate and straightforward information. Sex can be a ton of fun, but sexual health is not a laughing matter. In the bedroom, as in life, knowledge is power.