Getting an HIV test is the only way to know if you have HIV. This section answers some of the most common questions related to HIV testing, including the types of tests available, where to get one, and what to expect when you go to get tested. One in eight people in the United States who has HIV does not know they are infected. The Get Tested Coachella Valley coalition of community partners recommends that everyone age 12 and above get tested for HIV at least once as part of routine health care. The following questions and answers about HIV Testing appear on the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) website www.cdc.gov/hiv/basics/testing.html:
Should I get tested for HIV? How can testing help me? I don’t believe I’m at high risk. Why should I get tested? I am pregnant. Why should I get tested? When should I get tested? Where can I get tested? What kinds of tests are available and how do they work? What should I expect when I go in for an HIV test? What does a negative test result mean? If I have a negative result, does that mean that my partner is HIV-negative also? What does a positive result mean? Who will pay for my HIV test? Who will pay for my treatment if I’m HIV-positive?
If you answer yes to any of the following questions, you should definitely get an HIV test:
If you continue having unsafe sex or sharing injection drug equipment, you should get tested at least once a year. Sexually active gay and bisexual men may benefit from more frequent testing (e.g., every 3 to 6 months). You should also get tested if:
Getting tested can give you some important information and can help keep you—and others—safe. For example,
Some people who test positive for HIV were not aware of their risk. That’s why CDC recommends that providers in all health care settings make HIV testing a routine part of medical care for patients aged 13 to 64, unless the patient declines (opts out). This practice would get more people tested and help reduce the stigma around testing.Even if you have been in a long-term relationship with one person, you should find out for sure whether you or your partner has HIV. If you are both HIV-negative and you both stay faithful (monogamous) and do not have other risks for HIV infection, then you probably won’t need another HIV test unless your situation changes.
The immune system usually takes 2 to 8 weeks to make antibodies against HIV (the average is 25 days). Although most HIV tests look for these antibodies, some look for the virus itself. The period after infection but before the test becomes positive is called the window period.Deciding when to get tested therefore depends on when you may have been exposed and which test is used. See “What kind of tests are available and how do they work?” below. A few people will have a longer window period, so if you get a negative test result in the first 3 months after possible exposure, you should get a repeat test after 3 months. Ninety-seven percent of people will develop antibodies in the first 3 months after they are infected. In very rare cases, it can take up to 6 months to develop antibodies to HIV. Between the time you were possibly exposed and when you receive your test results:
You can ask your health care provider for an HIV test. Many medical clinics, substance abuse programs, community health centers, and hospitals offer them, too. You can also:
If you had a rapid screening test, the testing site will arrange a follow-up test to make sure the screening test result was correct. If your blood was tested in a lab, the lab will conduct a follow-up test on the same sample. If the follow-up test is also positive, it means you are HIV-positive.The sooner you take steps to protect your health, the better. Early treatment with antiretroviral drugs and a healthy lifestyle can help you stay well. Prompt medical care prevents the onset of AIDS and some life-threatening conditions. Here are some important steps you can take right away to protect your health:
To avoid giving HIV to anyone else,
No. Being HIV-positive does not mean you have AIDS. AIDS is the most advanced stage of HIV disease. Proper treatment can keep you from developing AIDS.See Basic Information About HIV and AIDS for more information.
Your test results are protected by state and federal privacy laws. They can only be released with your permission. Whether anyone can know about your test results or your HIV status depends on what kind of test you take: confidential or anonymous. Some states only offer confidential testing.
With confidential testing, if you test positive for HIV or another STI, the test result and your name will be reported to the state or local health department to help public health officials get better estimates of the rates of HIV in the state. The state health department will then remove all personal information about you (name, address, etc.) and share the remaining non-identifying information with CDC. CDC does not share this information with anyone else, including insurance companies. For more information, see AIDS.gov’s questions about Civil Rights, Legal Disclosure, Insurance, and the Workplace
Whether you share, or disclose, your status to others is your decision. Partners If you test positive for HIV, your sex or drug-using partners may also be infected. It’s important that they know they have been exposed so that they can be tested too. You can tell them yourself—but if you’re nervous about disclosing your test result, or you have been threatened or injured by your partner, you can ask your doctor or the local health department to tell them that they might have been exposed to HIV. Health departments do not reveal your name to your partners. They will only tell your partners that they have been exposed to HIV and should get tested. Most states have laws that require you to tell your sexual partners if you are HIV-positive before you have sex (anal, vaginal, or oral) or share drugs. You can be charged with a crime in some states if you don’t tell—even if your partner doesn’t become infected. Family and friends In most cases, your family and friends will not know your test results or HIV status unless you tell them yourself. While telling your family that you have HIV may seem hard, you should know that disclosure actually has many benefits—studies have shown that people who disclose their HIV status respond better to treatment than those who don’t. If you are under 18, however, some states allow your health care provider to tell your parent(s) that you received services for sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, if they think doing so is in your best interest. For more information, see the Guttmacher Institute’s State Policies in Brief: Minors’ Access to STI Services. Employers In most cases, your employer will not know your HIV status unless you tell. But your employer does have a right to ask if you have any health conditions that would affect your ability to do your job or pose a serious risk to others. (An example might be a health care professional, like a surgeon, who does procedures where there is a risk of blood or other body fluids being exchanged.) If you have health insurance through your employer, the insurance company cannot legally tell your employer that you have HIV. But it is possible that your employer could find out if the insurance company provides detailed information to your employer about the benefits it pays or the costs of insurance. All people with HIV are covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act. This means that your employer cannot discriminate against you because of your HIV status as long as you can do your job. For more information, see AIDS.gov’s Civil Rights