The HIV saliva test can detect HIV antibodies in saliva only once they develop to sufficient levels, which happens after about 23 days after exposure to the virus.
However, the duration of the window period is highly individual and depends on the immune system of the carrier. The level of antibodies can take up to 90 days after exposure to be reliably detected by an at-home HIV saliva testing kit — this is why it’s recommended to test multiple times during this period and again after the 3-month mark to confirm any results received within that window.
At present, only sophisticated lab tests are sensitive enough to reliably detect HIV antibodies or the viral copies themselves earlier than 3 months after exposure.
However, this is not to say that the carrier is not infectious during this time. In fact, studies suggest that free floating HIV copies and virus-infected lymphocytes can be detected at high levels in saliva, and especially in blood and semen, during the early weeks of HIV infection (referred to as the ‘window’ period before antibodies appear; levels fall rapidly after this point), meaning that early-stage infections, which are the most difficult to detect, could actually be major contributors to the epidemic.
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