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Comprehensive Guide to HIV Testing

What is HIV Antibody Testing?
Why Should I Be Tested for HIV? - The Benefits of Knowing
How Is HIV Spread?
Who Should Be Tested for HIV?
When Should I Be Tested for HIV?
What About My Privacy? Confidential or Anonymous.
Where Can I Get Tested for HIV?
I've Taken the Test. What Happens Now?
What Do My HIV Test Results Mean?
Should I Take the HIV Test Again?

What is HIV Antibody Testing?

HIV testing determines whether or not you are infected with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). This virus destroys the body's ability to fight off illness, and is the cause of AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome).

HIV testing tells you if you are infected with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) which causes AIDS. These tests look for "antibodies" to HIV. Antibodies are proteins produced by the immune system to fight a specific germ.

Other "HIV" tests are used when people already know that they are infected with HIV. These help measure how quickly the virus is multiplying (a viral load test) or the health of your immune system (a T-cell test). For more information, see Fact Sheet 124 (T-cell Tests), and Fact Sheet 125 (Viral Load Tests).

Why Should I Be Tested? - The Benefits of Knowing

  • Immune system monitoring and early treatment can greatly improve your long term health.
  • Knowing you are positive may help you change behaviors that would put yourself and others at risk.
  • You will know whether or not you can infect others.
  • Women and their partners considering pregnancy can take advantage of treatments that potentially prevent transmission of HIV to the baby.
  • If you test negative, you may feel less anxious after testing.

courtesy of San Francisco AIDS Foundation


 

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How Is HIV Spread?

  • Anal, vaginal, or oral sex without a condom. If you have another sexually transmitted disease, you chances of contracting HIV during sex are much higher.
  • Direct blood or mucous membrane contact with an infected person's blood.
  • From an infected mother to her child, during pregnancy, birth, or breast feeding.
  • Sharing needles or equipment for drug use.

Who Should Be Tested?

Testing is recommended if:

  • You think you may have been exposed to the HIV. If you're not sure, take this anonymous survey.
  • You are sexually active (3 or more sexual partners in the last 12 months)
  • You received a blood transfusion between 1977 and 1985, or a sexual partner received a transfusion and later tested positive for HIV.
  • You are uncertain about your sexual partner's risk behaviors.
  • You are a male who has had sex with another male at any time since 1977.
  • Any of your male sexual partners has had sex with another male since 1977.
  • You have used street drugs by injection since 1977, especially when sharing needles and/or other equipment.
  • You have a sexually transmitted disease (STD), including pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).
  • You are a health care worker with direct exposure to blood on the job.
  • You are pregnant. There are now treatments that can greatly reduce the risk that a pregnant woman who has HIV will give the virus to her baby.
  • You are a woman who wants to make sure you are not infected with HIV before getting pregnant.

Even if you have no risk factors for HIV infection, you may still want to get tested to ease your own mind. This also encourages everyone to be more responsible about HIV transmission.

When Should I Be Tested?

After a possible HIV exposure:

An HIV test will not detect the presence of the HIV virus immediately after exposure. Statistics show that 96% (perhaps higher) of all infected individuals will test positive within 2 to 12 weeks. In some cases, this may take up to six months.

Think about this: if you got a negative HIV test at six weeks, would you believe it? Would it make you less anxious? If so, go for it. But to be certain, you will need to be tested again for HIV at six months.

Last Updated: 07 April 2016
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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