Getting Tested for HIV
Why You Should Get Tested
HIV testing has now been recommended by CDC for anyone between the ages of 13 and 64 at least once in their lifetime. Higher risk behaviors include:
- Injecting drugs, steroids, or shared equipment (such as needles, syringes, or works) with others
- Having unprotected vaginal, anal, or oral sex with men who have sex with men, multiple partners, or anonymous partners
- Exchanging sex for drugs or money
- Having been diagnosed or treated for hepatitis, tuberculosis (TB), or a sexually transmitted infection (STI), like syphilis
- Having unprotected sex with someone who could answer yes to any of the above questions
- Not knowing your HIV status, especially if you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant
If you participate in any of these high risk behaviors, you should be re-tested every year.
Prevalence Rates by Special Population
Of all racial and ethnic groups in the United States, HIV and AIDS have hit African Americans the hardest. According to the CDC’s new estimates, African Americans, while comprising 14% of the US population, accounted for 44% of the new HIV infections in 2009. For more information on African Americans and HIV, please see these resources from the CDC:
The HIV/AIDS epidemic is a serious threat to the Hispanic/Latino community. According to the CDC, in 2009, Hispanics/Latinos accounted for 20% of new HIV diagnoses but only 16% of the US population. For more information on Hispanics/Latinos and HIV, please see these resources from the CDC:
- HIV/AIDS and Hispanics/Latinos
- HIV/AIDS Among Hispanics/Latinos Fact Sheet
- What Hispanics and Latinos Can Do
Asians and Pacific Islanders
In recent years, the number of AIDS diagnoses among Asians and Pacific Islanders has increased steadily, according to the CDC. Although Asians and Pacific Islanders account for approximately 1% of the total number of HIV/AIDS cases in the 33 states with long-term, confidential name-based HIV reporting, the Asian and Pacific Islander population in the United States is growing. For more information on Asians and Pacific Islanders and HIV, please see this resource from the CDC:
American Indians and Alaska Natives
HIV/AIDS is a growing problem among American Indians and Alaska Natives. Even though the numbers of HIV and AIDS diagnoses for American Indians and Alaska Natives represent less than 1% of the total number of HIV/AIDS cases reported to CDC’s HIV/AIDS Reporting System, when population size is taken into account, American Indians and Alaska Natives in 2005 ranked 3rd in rates of HIV/AIDS diagnosis. For more information on American Indians and Alaska Natives and HIV, please see this resource from the CDC:
Men Who Have Sex with Men
According to the CDC, 53% of all new HIV infections in 2006 occurred in gay and bisexual men. For more information on men who have sex with men and HIV, please see these resources from the CDC:
For information on women and HIV, please see these resources:
For information on youth and HIV, please see:
- HIV/AIDS Among Youth Fact Sheet
- HIV in Infants and Children (NetWellness Original)
- Preventing Mother-to-Child Transmission of HIV (NetWellness Original)
Perons Aged 50 or Older
The number of persons aged 50 years and older living with HIV/AIDS has been increasing in recent years. (from CDC-HIV/AIDS and Persons Aged 50 or Older). For more information, please see:
When You Should Get Tested
If you have never been tested, get tested today! If you get a sexually transmitted infection, get tested again. If you have been in a situation where you could have been exposed to or infected with HIV, it is advised that you are tested within 3 months of possible exposure and then a repeat test more than 3 months after exposure.
Most HIV tests measure the levels of antibodies that your body makes against HIV. Your body may take some time to produce enough of these antibodies for a test to detect whether or not you have acquired the HIV virus. This time period is commonly referred to as the “window period”.
Most people will develop detectable antibodies within 2 to 8 weeks (the average is 25 days), but it varies from person to person. 97 percent of people will develop antibodies in the first 3 months following the time of their infection. In very rare cases, it can take up to 6 months to develop antibodies to HIV. Talk to a health care provider about an HIV testing schedule that is right for you.
Types of Tests
There are several types of tests available that use a variety of methods to detect an HIV infection in the body. These tests screen either for presence of the virus, or for the presence of specific antibodies that the body makes in response to the infection.
HIV Antibody Test – An Enzyme Immunoassay (EIA) Test is used to detect antibodies in the blood against HIV. The test is very sensitive. If positive, this test is followed up and confirmed with a Western Blot (WB) assay.
RNA Test – Looks for part of the virus’ genetic material in the blood. It is used to screen the blood supply. It is also used in early cases where an infection is suspected, but antibody tests are unable to detect antibodies to HIV.
Rapid Test – This is a very quick test. Results are usually available in about 20 minutes. A sample is taken from blood or oral fluids and tested for the presences of antibodies to HIV much like the EIA Test. This test also needs confirmation with a test, such as a Western Blot, to make a definitive diagnosis of HIV.
Home HIV Test – There is currently one FDA approved Home HIV test kit on the market. This test uses similar methods to the tests previously described, but it can be performed at home, rather than at a public testing site. The blood sample is sent to a lab for processing. Costs can range from $45 to $70, depending on whether you want results within 72 hours or if you are willing to wait 7-10 business days to receive your results.
Confidential Versus Anonymous Testing
When debating testing options, you should decide whether you prefer Confidential Testing or Anonymous Testing.
Confidential Testing– An HIV test that is done in a manner so that only you and your healthcare provider know the test results is defined as confidential test. The laboratory performing the test will not receive your name. The test results are maintained in your medical record of the site where you are tested and if positive, the results would be reported to public health officials to help keep track of the extent of the disease in the population. This information is protected by the public health department and would not be released to your insurance company or employer.
Anonymous Testing– An anonymous HIV test is done in a manner so that no name is associated with the test. Only the person getting tested will know the results and release of that information is at their complete discretion. Please note: an anonymous test cannot be used to receive care and if you choose to get an anonymous test, you will not get a copy of your test results to share with partner(s) or others.
Positive Test Results
There are many resources out there for people who are living with HIV. Although HIV is a serious and sometimes scary disease, it is certainly possible to live a full life and to maintain your relationships with those close to you. One of the first things to do is find an HIV specialist in your area who you feel comfortable with. It is very important to find a health care provider you can work with, since maintaining your health will be a team effort. Get educated about HIV, your treatment options, and potential complications that could arise.
It is also important to reach out to people around you. Deciding who you want to know about your diagnosis is a very personal decision, but it is important that you tell someone. Many people living with HIV find it helpful to talk with others who are living with HIV themselves.
To locate a testing site near you, contact the Center for Disease Control
- By phone 24 hours a day: 1-800-CDC-INFO (232-4636), 1-888-232-6348 (TTY).
- Or online: CDC’s National HIV Testing Resources
To Learn More:
- HIV and AIDs Basics: Prevention and Risks
- HIV in Infants and Children
- Preventing Mother-to-Child Transmission of HIV
- Women and HIV
- Symptoms and Warning Signs of HIV
- Types of HIV Tests
- HIV Test Sensitivity: False Negative and False Positive Results
- HIV Transmission and Oral Sex
- Transmission Risk by Sexual Interaction
- Your HIV Positive Partner and You
- Back to HIV and AIDs Overview
Hope Through Research – You Can Be Part of the Answer!
Many research studies are underway to help us learn about HIV and AIDS. Would you like to find out more about being part of this exciting research? Please visit the following links:
For more information:
Go to the HIV and AIDS health topic.