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HIV – Understanding the Window Period

Asian Geographic article on HIV

Asian Geographic article on HIV

The HIV window period often is the cause of a lot of confusion.

There is a lot of information on the web throwing up numbers like 3 months, 6 months even 1 year. So what exactly if the HIV window period?

To better understand this, let us take a step back in time to when HIV was first discovered. At the same time, learn a little about how our immune system works.

The HIV virus was discovered in 1983. Prior to that, it was not known what was causing the disease known as AIDS that was ravaging certain communities in the world.

After scientists discovered the existence of the HIV virus, they had to find a way to determine if a person has this virus in his body or not.

The ELISA Test and Our Immune System

In 1985, they developed a test called ELISA which is based on a very basic principle of how our immune systems work.

When our body is attacked by a virus, it will produce anti-bodies to fight the virus. Anti-bodies are unique. The anti-bodies used to fight HIV would be completely different to the ones used to fight dengue, for example, or any other virus.

So finding HIV anti-bodies in the body is indirect evidence that there is HIV virus in the body too. The ELISA test does exactly that. It tests for the presence of HIV anti-bodies.

Click here to learn about the Different Generations of ELISA

Imagine each virus infection is a fire that starts in the body. Each of these fires produces a uniquely colored smoke. When we see a particular colored smoke, we assume that there is that particular type of fire burning away. The ELISA tests for HIV colored smoke but does not detect the fire itself.

But there was one big problem. It sometimes takes the body a long time before the body produces enough anti-bodies to be detected by the ELISA test. In other words, the fire has to burn for a long time before it produces enough smoke that can be detected by ELISA.

This period when a person is infected with HIV and the ELISA test is unable to pick it up (the period when the fire is burning but there is no smoke) is called the window period.

This was correctly recognized to be a very important finding and rightly so because a person infected with HIV within the window period can get tested and be told he does NOT have HIV. He will then not take steps to protect himself and the people around him thus increasing the risk of spreading the disease.

Different Types of HIV Tests

Click on the picture for the latest information on the HIV testing Window Period

Click on the picture for the latest information on the HIV testing Window Period










Click here for HIV Testing FAQ

Scientist has ever since been working on improving and coming up with new and better testing techniques and technology. There are now multiple different tests for HIV including ELISA, ECLIA, CMIARapid Tests, Western Blot, RNA PCR, DNA PCR and P24 Combo Tests. There are also multiple different manufacturers of each test. All of these tests have their own rates of accuracy, window periods and applications in the management of HIV. To make things even more confusing, there are also tests for indirect evidence of HIV infection like CD4 cell count and CD4 CD8 cell ratio.

So when you read somewhere or someone tells you that the window period for HIV is X number of months, your next logical question should be ‘by using which test?’

To know which test done when has what accuracy requires a lot of professional knowledge. This information is also constantly changing as more and more research information is published. There are also other considerations such as waiting time, anonymity, costs etc

It is still best to speak to Our Doctors who are certified and trained in HIV counseling and testing to find out which test is most appropriate for you.

Click here for Updates on the HIV testing Window Period

One thing remains constant. If you are at any risk of HIV at all, no matter how minute, you MUST get tested. But as for which test to do and when to test, it is still best to speak to a medical professional trained in HIV matters.

Click here for Info on STD Symptoms in Men
Click here for Info on STD Symptoms in Women
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We have 3 locations conveniently located at Robertson Walk and Bencoolen Street and Novena Medical Center.

We are Open on Saturdays and Sundays.

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Feel free to email your queries, feedback and suggestions on what other topics you want to see in the comments section below.

If you have any questions, visit our free online forum on sexual health, HIV and STDs.

More on HIV symptoms.

If you need a HIV test visit Our Clinics anytime during our opening hours. You do not need an appointment.

Find out more about Anonymous HIV testing at our clinics.

Can’t wait for 3 months to find out? Find out more about Anonymous Rapid HIV Combo test at our clinics.

If you had a high risk exposure to HIV within the past 72 hours, you can take medicines to reduce your risk of actually contracting HIV. Find out more on HIV PEP Treatment.

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Related Articles:

HIV CMIA Test Accuracy


Getting HIV from Oral Sex

More on HIV symptoms

How long can HIV live outside the body?

Erectile Dysfunction

Premature Ejaculation

Testosterone Deficiency Syndrome / Andropause

About Dr. Tan
Dr. Tan graduated from the National University of Singapore in 2001. His residency was in the two largest public hospitals in Singapore; Tan Tock Seng Hospital and Singapore General Hospital.

Find the profiles of our panel of doctors.


  1. Hi doctor, i had a rapid sd bioline combo done at AFA mobile testing site on the 87th day and the results was negative? any chances of it changing? Thank you for your advice.

  2. Hi Doctor

    About 10 weeks ago I had a high risk exposure through a condom breaking. Since the ive experienced the following: Small row of bumps on penis, swollen lymph nodes on groin, jaw and behind ear, I have a black rash like thing on my head. I am also losing a lot of weight but I don’t know if it’s due to excessive amounts of stress. Past 4 weeks I’ve lost about 4kg. I did a combo test at 4 weeks and 6 weeks which came back negative. Also did tests for Hep and Syphilis which also came back negative. I just would like to know if I should trust my ELISA results and wait until until 13 weeks for a retest.

    Thanks Doc

    • Just to add on Doc. During this whole ordeal I was using anabolic steroids (Testosterone and Deca). Would also like to know if this could in any way affect my negative results somewhat causing a false negative. Or may be the cause of all that I’m experiencing with my body.

      Thanking You In Afvance

      • I am not aware of any evidence that Testosterone and Deca can affect HIV test accuracy.

    • I think your combo tests are concluseve.

  3. Hye dr tan
    I’m done make a hiv test.ELISA ab/ag after 1 month and 2 month after exposure.
    The results came non reactive.is it conclusive or not

    • In my opinion it is.

      • Hi Dr. Tan I am really anxious right now. I got a mutual hand job 4 weeks ago and i do have a day hair line cut in my hand and I felt that I may get the virus coz I don’t know his status, though I don’t have any signs and symptoms after that.

        • I really do not think you can get HIV from a handjob. You are worrying needlessly.

  4. Been in a relationship for 2 years had sex with only that person a girl the whole time was unprotected we were both virgins lost it to each other we are no longer together now but I had unprotected sex with her a few days ago probably 6 days ago went to a clinic today and got the oral HiV exam in my mouth can back negative are my results conclusive?

    • Of course not. At 6 days HIV tests are literally useless. You need to repeat the same test at 3 months or a combo test at 1 month.

  5. Hi Doctor

    About 8 weeks ago I had high risk exposure via a condom burst. Since then I have been experiencing headaches that come and go and I have swollen lymph nodes on both sides of groin, think I also feel one under my left jaw and behind my right ear. I did the combo test ( HIV Type I & II (Ab & p24 Ag) ) after 6 weeks which came back Negative for HIV, Hep and Syphillis. I just need to know if I should stop worrying for now until I test again at 3 months even though I have these swollen lymph nodes that are the reason for my worry and stress

    Thanking You In Advance

  6. Hi Dr.,

    I was tested (HIV – 1 RNA APTIMA) after 11 of exposer and the result was Negative then I done HIV test with ORAQUICK swab on 6th Week after exposer, that was again Negative.
    What are my chances of still having HIV? should I retest again? Thanks

  7. I had an unprotected homosexual encounter (anal) with a stranger and do not know his status. What is the earliest time I can take a PCR DNA test? It has only been 3 days after exposure and my anxiety level has been very high. The testing facility here only offers the DNA test and says a window of 9-11 days. I have read in some places that this test can detect within 72 hours, some say 6 days. What time frame would you recommend? I plan to follow up with an antibody test at 3 weeks and then 12 weeks. Thank you for your service.


    • Definitely 10 days. Although the HIV PCR tests may detect the virus as early as 6 days, you want to wait for 10 days for the viral load to build up so that it will be 100% accurate. Info in HIV window period. Info on HIV PCR tests.

      • If HIV is detected through the RNA test, should treating begin immediately or will more conclusive testing be required?

        • Definitely more conclusive testing. HIV detected through ANY means has to be confirmed. Even after confirmation of the infection many tests have to be done before a decision is made if the patient needs medicines and what medicines to give.

  8. concerned

    Hi Dr. I took the HIV Combo Test on the 1st of October @ 1pm and had sexual intercourse with a lady of unknown background on the 6th of september around midnight (approximately 25 days had past) . If the results were negative, but I have since contracted gonorhea, chlamydia and yeast infection on my penis, should I come back for a re-test?

    • At 25 days the Combo test is really as good as conclusive however the official window period is 28 days. So yes I have to officially say you need a retest but practically speaking, the results will not change.

  9. Hi I gave oral sex with lots precum no ejaculation 3 weeks later I got mild rash above stomach for a few hours this went then returned a week later only to go again after a day no other symtomes the rash was like red dots not raised, I went for 4th generation hiv test at 30 days was negitive do I need to test again

    • No you do not.

    • Thanks for reply

    • Even if u have high risk is 30 day negitive duo conclusive

      • I had 84 day test as wasn’t happy with 30 day came out negitive ,iv bn through hell last 3 months all because reading stuff on the net tht really doesn’t help I have probs done more damage to me because off worry, fear is a terrible thing guys stick to protected sex and there is no worry for hiv ,and please any one worried about hiv please don’t look up on the net about symptoms ect it will only fuel your fears just git tested but if u do it safe then there should b no reason to ,just like to mention this site has been great help and the Dr on it thanks .

        • Thank you for sharing. I think that is great advice. I totally agree with you that the fear of HIV can destroy your life maybe even more than HIV can.

  10. Dear Sir,

    I had unprotected sex in June 2013. i dnt knw her Hiv status. After 6 months i got fever, Throat pain, joint pain etc.. so i worried and tested for hiv (HIV- Enhanced Chemiluminenscence Detection- ECIQ) and the result was 0.03(Non reactive). after one week i felt good but i have some problem in throat (still there). Again after 3 months i tested its result is 0.02.
    but my joint pain and throat pain persist there and checked with docter he gave me some antibiotics but its not cured. again i worried alot about Hiv and i tested after 5 months ie, Aug-2014 this time it was (Hiv 1&2 Abs+p.24 Ag) Also came non reactive (0.07). After one month again i tested two times its also negative. still i am worried because i have some eye concentration problem started. i checked with docter he told me my eyes r ok. But because of my eyes and sore throat (Jungular lymb vein enlargement) i am getting worried alot.
    Also i read that in some person hiv virus cannot be detectable in blood for more than 6 months or more.
    Pls Help sir and iam worried because of this i cant even do anything

    • Dear Sir,
      Again one more thing my throat pain is just like when i am eating anything i don’t have feel any problem but after eating i feel something stuck on my neck and when i am swallowing i am feeling some thing like vein is stuck over in my throat and also i feel to cough and omitting. cough and omitting feel is temporary and after some time i feel k

    • So you think you have a sero-negative HIV infection? This is very rare but possible. However, even if this was the case, your combo test would have been positive. So I think you are being unnecessarily worried. You obviously have something wrong with you, but it is not HIV.

      • Dear Sir,

        Thank u for ur valuable rply. Again I am worried by ur rply. in my previous msg do i did any combo test. (Hiv 1&2 Abs+p.24 Ag) this test I did already. is this is a combo test. Pl help me Sir also is this a case of Sero-negative HIV.

        • Dear Sir,
          Thank u for ur valuable rply. Again I am worried by ur rply. in my previous msg do i did any combo test. (Hiv 1&2 Abs+p.24 Ag) this test I did already. is this is a combo test. Pl help me Sir also is this a case of Sero-negative HIV.
          pl rply sir

  11. Hi i had sex with a guy who said he is negative and got tested sept 22 but im top and cum inside him will i get hiv? Is test kit home effective after how many days of exposure?

    • If he is truly negative then you are not at risk. If he is HIV +ve your risk of getting HIV from insertive anal sex is about 1 in 1000. The home test kit is very accurate at 3 months post exposure. Although we will always tell you to confirm it at a doctor’s office.

  12. Worried

    Hi Doc

    I would like to find out how accurate is the ELISA test at 6 weeks after exposure?

  13. hello doctors, i had unprotected sex with Chinese female
    i was tested 4, 5, 6, 7 weeks post exposure and all came back negative, i plan to test at 8 weeks using 4th generation test, what is your opinion doctor?

  14. I had a sexual relationship with a street photometry and I did wear protection during the oral and the vaginal sex but did not inspect the condom for tears or rips when I did remove it. I remember the underside having a feeling that nothing was there but I am sure if it broke I would have seen it?

    The real concern is how accurate are the test I have taken to date. I have take 2 antibody test at the 6.5 & 9 week mark and both were negative. The test I took was the Oraquick oral swab test that you can buy and have results in 20 minutes. So would this seem like a s risk and also could I depend on the results of the oral fluids test since both were after the 6 week mark?

  15. Martin Black

    Dr Tan,
    Thank you for your response. I had a HIV 1 PCR test 25 days after possible exposure, result was undetectable (threshold <50 cp/ml) Can I take this as conclusive, what is its reliability, please help me

  16. Serkan Ertan

    Dr. Tan

    I have done these test after 20 days.
    P24 negative
    Hiv dna pcr negative

    What is the accuracy of these test. Should I retest again. Im still scared if the result turn back possitive after 90 days.

    Thanks for your help
    My best regards

    • Your tests are very indicative but not 100% conclusive. You must repeat the test. Either a combo test at 28 days or an antibody test at 3 months.

  17. Sebastien

    Hello doc,
    Congratulations for you website, it is really usefull
    I had an unprotected relation with a girl. 6 weeks later
    I passed an elisa combo test which came back negative
    I was wondering how accurate this test could be?
    Thank you from canada!

    • In my opinion the combo test at 4 weeks is already conclusive. Your combo test at 6 weeks is definitely conclusive. Greetings from Singapore.

  18. Hi doc. I had an exposure around 4th of April and I have done the following test “HIV DUO ( Anti HIV 1 & 2 Ab+ P24 )” on 10 July the results came back “Nonreactive”. I called up the lab and they told me, my result as “0.13” and its nonreactive. Does this confirm that I am hiv negative. Also I did a “RPR (Done in place of V D R L)” and the result came back as nonreactive. Should I repeat any tests for hiv ? Thanks in advance…

  19. I feel that is among the so much vital info for me. And i’m satisfied studying your article.

    However wanna statement on few common things, The site taste is perfect, the articles is in reality nice : D.
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  20. Keira

    Dr. Tan,

    I had series of unprotected sex last year starting from feb 2013, withdrawal but starting April 5, 2013 he came inside me during my menstruation. I started having problems down there, vaginal infection, boils, uti. We decided to take rapid antibody test June 2013 at Social Hygiene Clinic(Philippines) both came out non-reactive. Then, i alone took some test August 2013 determine Hiv 1&2 immunochromatography and tested non reactive again. Then this month May 2014 more than a year after my symptoms started i tested non reactive to Sd Bioline rapid hiv antibody test(maybe the old version) using tiny amount of blood using finger prick. I just pressed my finger to the kit really tiny amount because some went to my nail. The social worker said its enough. Is it really accurate and conclusive?
    Thanks in advance..


  21. Keira

    Dr. Tan,

    I had series of unprotected sex last year with the same guy. Started February 2, 2013 but not ejaculated inside. We had sex during my menstruation last April 5, 2013 he ejaculated inside and had boil in pelvic area, my OBgyne gave me antibiotic but after a week i still had another one. I had series of vaginal infection and uti. After 6 week had rapid hiv antibody test at Social Hygiene Clinic (Philippines) with him, we both came not reactive. I test again at 4 months around August2013 (only me) at different clinic using Determine hiv 1&2 immunochromatography. And then this year May 20,2014 at Social hygience clinic using SD Bioline rapid antibody test (old one)using tiny amount of blood from finger prick. I just pressed my finger to the kit. It is really small amount because some blood went to my nail. Is this accurate and conclusive. Im still having symptoms and frequent bowel/soft stool.

    • drtan

      Generally speaking HIV tests are conclusive at 3 months. I do not see any reason for you to doubt your tests.

  22. andika

    good afternoon dock.
    I andika , I never do the risky behavior (unprotected sec) dated 09 January 2014 and after that 3 har hit GO and am down to my last doctor cured and hiv test method with the results of the Non reacktif CIMA (24 March 2014) what I received accurate results? Thank you.

    • I really tried hard to understand your question but I really could not. Sorry.

  23. Hi Dr ten,i had inprotected sex with uknown girl at the 7-2-2014 and 14-2-2014 i done my pcr ran test on 6-3-2014 it come negative and after that i dont an hiv 1-2 antibody on19-3-2014 is that results r accurate?do i need more testa?plz help’ty Dr’

  24. Hi, doctor

    Could you help to clarify the meaning of test results I have received? Are they conclusive already? Or I shall do more tests?

    I had unprotected intercourse 146 days ago, Later 74 days ago, I had received oral sex. On my 84, 86, 105, 135, 146 days after above risk exposure, I had ELISA, PA and Rapid test (point of care, determine hiv 1/2). Received all test result in negative.

    My question is my test result is conclusive and definite for my first high risk exposure (unprotected intercourse)?
    What I I shall wait is another 10 days (till 84 days/ 12 weeks) hiv test for received oral sex? Or My above test results are conclusive already test for both risk exposure, since received oral test is considered a negligible risk.

    Hope my above expressing are clear to you.
    Awaited to have your reply.


  25. Dear Dr ,
    I had unsafe sexual exposure 30 days after that I took the HIV 1 & 2 antibodies plus p24 ant test it came back negative. but I have a very sever rash, shall I take the dual test again after 42 days? or shall I do another test ?
    please help

  26. hi Dr ,I took a test hiv 1&2 plus P24 ant after 30 days of exposure the results are negative . I have a sever rash should I take another test. how accurate is HIV Due test after 30 days .
    Thank u

  27. stilworry

    hi doc i have a single unprotected vaginal sex with csw in indonesia, i tested negative 8 weeks after exposure ( I dont know which generation of type of test they used) but while tested my absolut CD4 is low 383 (22%) and i still in hospital bed during 4 weeks after exposure. i conssumed omeprazole, domperidon and ondensetron also intravenous Omeprazole. my question is, is those factor I mention above influence my negative test result?. i am tested in indonesia. thanks doc

    • I also do not know what test they used so cannot comment on the accuracy. The medications you are on should not affect the accuracy of the HIV test.

  28. rarutran

    i had sex with four men,i am sure that i didn,t also they didnt drink the semen,and also they are not having hiv,but they never clean their penis .am i infected by hiv.

  29. Dear Doctor,

    As i am writing to you, i’m being stricken by anxiety.I had an encounter with a sex worker by March.I kissed her but it was lip kiss which lasted few seconds but since then i have been depressed, have taken several tests; hiv combo test 2 times at 5months and six months of exposure, hiv antibody testing at 1 month, 2 months, 3 months, 4 months, elisa hiv antibody 6 months 3 weeks, rapid test at 7 months, elfa antibody at 7 months 3 ks but i’m still worried despite that all the tests were conducted at different high profile clinics and test centres. My last worry was the last result i got was seronegative, i keep on asking myself what that could mean. Doc, what should i do? This is the most dangerous encounter i have had in my life.
    Please tell me something to mitigate my worries b/c i ‘m married.

  30. Hi. I had unprotected vaginal sex 5 months ago with a promiscuous girl who had her period at that time. After 10 weeks and 5 months i did Ag/Ab test and both was negative. I have symptoms such as enlarged lymph nodes and numbness in the feet last 2-3 months. Should i have another test?(when and whitch one?)
    Thanks so much in advance!

  31. SIR,

  32. Hi Dr. Tan,

    I had protected vaginal sex with an HIV positive woman over a period of 6 weeks. I also performed oral sex on her (vice versa). Last possible exposure was August 13th. She has been taking antiviral meds for years but just bothered to tell me now. I had a PCR test done 9 days after last possible exposure which came back negative. What are my chances of still having it? When should I retest? Thanks.

    • RNA PCR test at 9 days is very indicative but not conclusive. You should certainly retest.

  33. worried

    Hi i had unprotected vaginal sex ,it was not sex i just inserted and took out with in seconds ,but afterwards I got scared of hiv,i told the girl to have test she got tested and was found hiv- ,but due to anxiety i started thinking if she might be in her window period,after 34 days i had a HIV1/2 and p24 antigen combo test it came out negative.I know the guidlines is 12 week but they say 6 week test is conclusive,i want to know what is the difference between 6th week and 5th week,shuld i go for testing on 6th week or 12th week,please help this thing is ruining my life !:(

    • drtan

      In my opinion the combo test that you took is already conclusive. You can take another antibody test at 12 weeks if you wish because this is what most official guidelines recommend. Please post any follow up questions on http://www.askdrtan.com

  34. Dr. Tan,

    I am a male and I had unprotected vaginal intercouse while on vacation down in New Orleans last month. It was an random girl I picked up at a bar. I have had two OraQuik OTC mouth swab tests at 4 and 5 weeks come back negative for HIV. Furthermore, I had a rapid HIV blood prick test at 6 weeks come back negative too.

    I should be ok right?

  35. Hi Doc.
    greeting from India,
    i am 33 male, unprotected sex with hiv+ lady be 8 weeks ago. tested for hiv Antibodies P24 CMIL at 47 days (7 weeks). i planned to retest at 9 weeks mark. are they conclusive.
    plz. suggest any other test at 9 week as i want to be sure and cant handle pressure of waiting until 12 weeks more.

    plz. reply .
    thanks in advance

    • Your combo test at 7 weeks is already as good as conclusive. You have already waited for 9 weeks, why can’t you wait another 3 weeks? You can always do the same combo test again. Every day that passes makes it better. But I think this is just a waste of time and money. Please post any follow up questions on http://www.askdrtan.com

  36. had sex with a sex worker where the condom tore off.
    after a week or 2 i got std – chlamydia for which i am on medication.
    did the hiv antibody and p24 antigen test at 5 weeks and it came out negative. is the test result conclusive or should i retest at 3 months.

  37. Anthony

    My possible exposure was jan 18,2013
    I got tested jan 27th , feb 5th , feb 25th , march 4th , & also march 26th my 9 week test they all were negative …. What are my chances that my test will change to possitive?

  38. Hello Sir,

    I had sex with a girl without condom.she is sexually very active with other as well. I was scared and tested for CMIA combo test after 5 weeks and 4 days. It came out to be non-reactive with index value of 0.16. Do i need to worry and take another test..please guide as i feel anxious about the window period.

    • In my opinion your test is conclusive. Please verify this with your doctor.

  39. Hello Dr.Tan,i am 33 old from W.AFRICA.I had unprotected oral and protected vaginal sex with a high risk prostitute girls.taken ELISA HIV 1 & 2 , AT 60 days after exposure.results negative.should i go for further tests or shall i rid off from hiv stress. plse guide me 2. should i take western blot test for recofirmation? 3. will p24 AG/AB combine tests at 60 days after exposure will give exact results? 4 . will oral sex without protection will have a chance of HIV infection? 5. will condoms never 100 % protect from HIV infection?plse guide me and help me to sleep..tnanks in advance..

    • An ELISA test at 60 days post exposure is not conclusive. You definitely need to retest. Some countries will accept a combo test as conclusive at 60 days post exposure however, this varies and you should check the recommendations of your local health authorities. I do not think oral sex puts you at any risk of HIV however there is still a small risk from protected sex. Western blot is to confirm a Positive ELISA test and not a negative ELISA test.

  40. Hi had unprotected sex twice with same girl in August 2012 though I had protected sex with couple of few girls in june/july 2012 in London. They were sexual worker. Than I was really stressed and felt a lot guilty about it after had unprotected sex. My symptoms of sleeplessness,digestion disorder,mild fever,loss appetite,muscles and joint ache,swollen and painfull lymph nodes, lost weight of7/8kg,rectum fissures and bleeding and extreme fatigue,started red spots and blemishes.
    i had blood test in 8 weeks,12 weeks and after 16 weeks which were all negetive.
    But I had sex with sexual worker with condom on 29 november 2012 in India.
    I had blood test recently in 11 weeks and its negative. I am going to have test on 04/03/2013. I am really really worried because symptoms don’t go away. How long to wait for definitive result.
    Please give me best advice. Thank you.

    • Most HIV tests are considered conclusive at 3 months. However, this differs between testing methods. Please verify this with your doctor. Please post any follow up questions on http://www.askdrtan.com

  41. i went for hiv test in a laboratory
    when i sat down, the nurse did not know how tu put the needle on the vacutainer, then, she went for a new syringe
    this one i saw it)

    then i told her i would prefer if you used the vacutainer better, cuz syringe hurts a bit more,
    then she try it again , and finally she was able to put the needle right.

    1) MAIN WORRIED IS THAT SHE COULD re-used a needle while i was not watching her.
    there was a patients before me i remember

    2 what are my chances of get hiv in a laboratory


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