Last Updated on June 4, 2020 by Shuvani Sanyal, MD
What is HIV and how is it spread?
HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a long-term infection that damages the body’s immune system or it’s ability to fight off diseases. It spreads through blood, semen, vaginal fluids, and breast milk. You can get or give the infection by:
- Having vaginal, anal, or oral sex without a condom
- Sharing needles or works when injecting drugs
- From mother to child during pregnancy, birth, or breastfeeding
You CANNOT get HIV through casual contact such as hugging or shaking hands!
What is AIDS?
AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) is the stage of HIV infection when the body is weakened and less able to fight off germs.
Basic HIV Test Info
What is an HIV test?
It is a simple test, done by taking blood, or fluid from cells in the mouth, that shows you have been infected with HIV, the virus that can cause AIDS.
Who should have an HIV test?
The CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) recommends that everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 get tested.
Whatever your age, you should have an HIV test if you are sexually active or have shared needles or works for injecting drugs.
Can you change your mind after you consent to the test?
- You can change your mind at any time before the lab runs the test.
- If you change your mind, you must give your health care provider a written request saying that you do not want your test to be run.
Can someone under the age of 18 take the test without consent?
- Minors, are 13 and older, have the right to take the test without their parent’s knowledge or consent.
What’s the difference between anonymous and confidential testing?
Anonymous testing means your name is not used and will not be on the test results. To get your test results, you will be given a code number.
Confidential testing means that your name (whatever name you give them, depending on their requirement for identification) will be used on your test results.
If you get an anonymous test, you will not receive a piece of paper with your name and your results. If you need a copy of your test results, you should take a confidential test.
In certain states, you have a right to request an anonymous test.
HIV Testing Details
How is HIV testing done?
Typical tests are done on blood or oral fluids. Specimens are sent to a lab and you get your results in about one week. When testing blood, a needle will be used to draw blood from a vein in your arm. When testing oral fluids, they are collected on a swab from your mouth.
Some clinics or testing sites offer rapid testing. This is a test done on a small amount of blood from the tip of your finger or from fluid in your mouth. You will get the results in that same visit. If your result is reactive (shows possible signs of infection), you will need more testing.
How will the test help you?
- The test will tell you whether or not you are infected. People can have HIV for years and not know it unless they get tested.
- If you are infected, it can help you get proper treatment and learn how to avoid spreading the infection to others.
- If you are not infected, it can help you learn how to reduce your risk.
What does a negative or a ‘non-reactive’ result mean?
A negative result means you are not infected with HIV, or you have been infected too recently for it to show up on the test.
If you recently had sex without a condom or shared needles, you should get another test in about six weeks. This is because sometimes tests cannot detect recent infection.
What does a positive result mean?
A positive result means you are living with HIV.
You should also see a doctor as soon as possible. The person who gave you your test results should be able to help you find a doctor if you don’t already have one.
You can pass your infection to other people through sex, sharing needles, or through birth or breastfeeding if you are or will be a mother.
You should use condoms every time you have sex, to prevent passing the infection to others. The person who gave you your results can help you plan ways to keep from passing your infection on to others as well.
Who will know the results of my test?
Each state is different, but there are very strict rules about who is allowed to see that information.
- Healthcare workers that are involved in your care may see your test results.
- Health insurance companies, Medicare, and Medicaid, if they are paying all or part of the cost of your healthcare may also see your results.
- All positive results are reported to the health department.
Some state laws require that your doctor or someone from the local health department all of your known sexual and/or needle-sharing partners that they may have been exposed. They do this without using your name or sharing any information about you.
It is illegal to discriminate against people with HIV.
If You Have HIV
If you have HIV, will you definitely develop AIDS or get sick?
- Today, there are many treatments for HIV. These treatments can prevent serious illness, including AIDS. If you get care quickly, you have a good chance for a long and healthy life.
Whom should you tell if you have HIV?
Current, past, and future sexual and/or needle-sharing partners should be notified before you put them at risk.
Your local health department can also help to notify partners. They will do this without using your name or sharing any information about you.
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Did this help answer your questions about HIV testing? Have you recently been tested or do you have some additional information we should include in this post? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!