HIV Test (HIV Blood Test)


What is HIV testing?

An HIV test shows whether a person is infected with HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus). HIV is the virus that causes AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome). See more information on HIV and AIDS AIDS is the most advanced stage of HIV infection.

An HIV blood test can detect HIV infection, but it can't tell how long a person has been HIV infected or whether the person has AIDS.

Why is an HIV test important?

Knowing your HIV status can help keep you—and others—safe.

If you are HIV negative:
Testing shows that you don't have HIV. Continue taking steps to avoid getting HIV, such as using condoms during sex.

If you are HIV-positive:
Testing shows that you are infected with HIV, but you can still take steps to protect your health. Begin by talking to your physician about antiretroviral therapy (ART). ART is the use of HIV medicines to treat HIV infection. People on ART take a combination of HIV medicines every day. ART helps people with HIV live longer, healthier lives. ART also reduces the risk of sexual transmission of HIV. Your physician will help you decide when to start ART and what HIV medicines to take.

Who should get tested for HIV?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that everyone 13 to 64 years old get an HIV blood test at least once and that people at high risk of infection be tested more often.

Factors that increase the risk of HIV infection include:

  • Having vaginal or anal sex without using a condom with someone who is HIV-positive or whose HIV status you don't know
  • Injecting drugs and sharing needles, syringes or other drug equipment with others
  • Exchanging sex for money or drugs
  • Having a sexually transmitted disease (STD), such as syphilis
  • Having hepatitis or tuberculosis (TB)
    (Cardio-Med offers a hepatitis test (or liver blood test) in-house.)
  • Having sex with anyone who has any of the HIV risk factors listed above

Talk to your physician about your risk of HIV infection and how often you should get the HIV test.

Should pregnant women get tested for HIV?

CDC recommends that all pregnant women get an HIV blood test as early as possible during each pregnancy. Women who are planning to get pregnant should also get tested.

Women with HIV take HIV medicines during pregnancy and childbirth to reduce the risk of mother-to-child transmission of HIV. HIV medicines used as recommended during pregnancy can reduce the risk of mother-to-child transmission of HIV to less than 1%.

What are the types of HIV tests?

There are several HIV tests, some used for HIV screening and others for follow-up testing if a screening test result is HIV-positive.
  • HIV tests for screening

    The HIV antibody test is the most common HIV test for screening. The test checks for HIV antibodies in blood, urine, or fluids from the mouth. HIV antibodies are disease-fighting proteins that the body produces in response to HIV infection.

    The time period from infection with HIV until the body produces enough HIV antibodies to be detected by an HIV antibody test is called the window period. Most people develop HIV antibodies within 3 months after they are infected with HIV. But the window period can vary depending on the HIV blood test used. In general, anyone who has a negative result on an HIV antibody test within 3 months of a possible exposure to HIV should have the test repeated in 3 months.

    The HIV antigen/antibody test can detect both HIV antigen (a part of the virus) and HIV antibodies in blood. An antigen/antibody HIV test can detect HIV infection before an antibody HIV test.

  • Follow-up HIV tests

    A positive result on an HIV screening test must always be confirmed by a second HIV blood test. The following tests are used to confirm a positive result on an HIV screening test:

    • Antibody differentiation test, which distinguishes HIV-1 from HIV-2
    • HIV-1 nucleic acid test, which looks directly for HIV
    • Western blot or indirect immunofluorescence assay, which detect antibodies

How long does it take to get the results of an HIV test?

It usually takes a few days to a few weeks to get results of an HIV test. Some rapid HIV antibody tests can produce results within 30 minutes.

Is HIV testing confidential?

HIV testing can be confidential or anonymous.

Confidential testing means that your HIV test results will include your name and other identifying information, but only people allowed to see your medical records will see your test results. HIV-positive test results may be reported to local or state health departments to be counted in statistical reports. Health departments remove all personal information (including names and addresses) from HIV test results before sharing the information with CDC. CDC uses this information for reporting purposes and does not share this information with any other organizations.

Anonymous testing means you don't have to give your name when you take an HIV test. When you take the test, you receive a number. To get your HIV test results, you give the number instead of your name.

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Adapted from the National Institutes of Health