It may be scary to get an HIV test. But it is important if you need one, because HIV is treatable. In fact, patients who are diagnosed and treated early can live a normal life. They just need to take care of themselves, like others with chronic conditions like diabetes or high blood pressure.
When should I get tested for HIV?
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) suggests that people who are between the ages of 13 and 64 should be tested for HIV a minimum of one time. This test should be considered a part of an individual’s regular health care practice. The CDC recommends that persons who have a greater risk of living with HIV should get tested a minimum of one time every year. People who have a higher risk of HIV infection include individuals with multiple sexual partners, men who have sex with men (MSM), gay and bisexual men, and pregnant women.
If you think you may have been exposed to HIV, speak to a health care provider about HIV testing. Testing is the only way someone will know if he or she is living with HIV.
If I test negative on an AIDS test, does that mean I don’t have HIV/AIDS?
The short answer is it depends. If you had no recent exposures to the virus, then a negative test result is reassuring. However, if you had a recent exposure, it can sometimes take 2 weeks to 3 months for the test to show evidence of HIV. It has even been reported that in rare circumstances a test might take up to 6 months to show evidence of infection with the AIDS virus. That is why doctors currently recommend repeating HIV testing one or several times in the first few months after an exposure.
What is the test for HIV?
If a person is HIV positive, the body will begin to produce proteins that fight off the virus. These proteins are known as antibodies. The HIV antibody test is considered the most common method of testing for HIV and checks for the existence of antibodies in an individual’s mouth fluids, blood or urine.
After infection occurs, it can take anywhere between 2 weeks to 6 months before antibodies are detected in the blood. This is called the window period, or the seroconversion period, the time between the point of HIV infection and when the antibodies can be detected in the body. During this window, a person infected with HIV can still spread the disease without either partner’s knowledge.
What is an HIV consumer controlled test kit?
An HIV consumer controlled test kit is commonly referred to as a home testing kit. The only home testing kit that has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is the Home Access HIV-1 Test System. The home test is conducted by pricking a finger with a needle provided by the kit. Drops of blood are then put on a collection card that is mailed to a laboratory for results. The person performing the test must call a toll-free number approximately a week following the mailing of the collection card. It is an anonymous procedure that requires the personal identification number in the home testing kit.
Other tests that work to detect HIV antibodies include:
Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) test: Blood is taken from a person’s vein and added to a substance that tags HIV antibodies to make them visible. Blood tests are the most common screening test used to detect HIV antibodies. A positive blood test must be reconfirmed by a follow-up test, also referred to as a confirmatory test.
Oral Testing: Oral fluid that is not saliva is taken from the mouth around the gums and tested for HIV antibodies. The fluid is collected with a special instrument.
Urine Testing: This type of testing is less accurate at detecting HIV antibodies than oral and blood testing. As a result, this method of testing is rarely used.
Rapid HIV Testing: This method of testing provides ‘rapid’ results, in some instances in 20 minutes. A rapid tests’ accuracy is considered similar to that of ELISA tests. A rapid HIV test detects HIV antibodies in in oral fluid or blood taken from a finger stick or vein. A positive rapid HIV test must be followed up with a confirmatory test to confirm a positive diagnosis.
What is a Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test?
Instead of testing for HIV antibodies, PCR tests, sometimes called viral load tests or plasma HIV RNA tests, are used to identify the genetic material of the HIV virus. Unlike an antibody test, PCR tests can detect HIV at a faster rate. PCR tests can detect HIV in as little as two to three weeks following infection. Although PCR tests are more expensive than antibody tests, they are more conclusive and informative.
How do I prepare for an HIV test?
There is no preparation required prior to taking an HIV test. An HIV test cannot be conducted without an individual’s permission. Generally, there is counseling offered before and after HIV Testing. HIV testing and results are strictly confidential.
How long before I receive my HIV test results?
Unless a person conducts a rapid HIV test, antibody test results are typically available a few days after testing. PCR tests and confirmatory tests are available anywhere between a few days to a few weeks. If your health care provider has not contacted you 1-2 weeks after your test, it is important that you call to obtain your HIV testing results.
How do I locate an HIV testing site?
Medical clinics, community organizations such as Planned Parenthood, and many hospitals provide HIV testing. In addition, you may purchase a home testing kit. For additional information, you may speak to your healthcare provider or locate an HIV testing site by searching the CDC’s HIV testing locator or contacting CDC-Info at 1-800-232-4636. Information shared with the CDC is confidential and the number is available to call 24 hours per day.