The most common test for the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) detects antibodies produced by the immune system that attack foreign particles like HIV. A standard human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) blood test cannot detect signs of infection immediately after a person is exposed to the virus. It can take several weeks for the immune system to produce the telltale antibodies whose presence indicates that HIV is in the bloodstream. If a person is tested too early, the result may be negative even though the person has been infected. Prompt testing is important, however, because early treatment can improve health and lengthen life; testing also helps avoid transmission to others.
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