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How to Get Tested for HIV

If you've never been tested for HIV, it's a good idea to check your status at least once. And you need to get checked regularly if you:

  • have unprotected sex
  • are a guy who has sex with other guys
  • use needles to inject drugs

Why Should Someone Get Tested for HIV?

If someone is infected with HIV, it's important to know because:

  • Starting medicines right away can keep a person stay healthy for a long time.
  • There are ways to stop the spread of HIV to others, such as using a condom and taking medicines.
  • A pregnant woman who is infected can get treatment to try to prevent passing HIV to her baby.

Another reason to get tested is peace of mind: A negative test result can be a big relief for someone who is worried about being infected.

How Can I Get Tested?

To get tested, you can:

  • Ask your doctor to test you.
  • Go to a local clinic or community health center.
  • Go to National HIV and STD Testing Resources to find a testing center near you.
  • Call 800-CDC-INFO (800-232-4636) to find testing centers near you.
  • Buy a test at a pharmacy (without a prescription) and do the test at home.

Many testing centers will do an HIV test for free. Ask if there is a fee before you go for testing. In most states you do not need a parent's permission to get tested for HIV. And you can buy the test at the pharmacy without a parent.

How Do the Tests Work?

Most HIV tests use a blood sample, either from a blood draw or finger prick. Others use saliva (spit), but this is a little less accurate than blood tests. 

Some HIV tests look for the virus itself. But most look for the antibodies for HIV. Antibodies are part of the immune system and fight infections. When someone is infected with HIV, the body creates antibodies to fight HIV.

Testing results may be available that day or can take longer come back. 

Does HIV Always Show Up on Testing?

No, if someone was recently infected, it might not show up with testing. How quickly HIV shows up on testing depends on the type of test done:

  • Testing that looks for the virus itself can find HIV 7‒28 days after infection.
  • Testing that looks for HIV antibodies can find HIV antibodies 3‒12 weeks after infection.

Who Will Know the Results of My Testing?

It depends on where you get your testing. Testing sites have different privacy rules. Ask about privacy rules at your testing site so you understand whether anyone else will know you got tested or see your results.

If you go to an anonymous test site, only you know the results. No written record of the test result is kept.

If you go to a confidential test site, the results will go in your medical record. Positive results are sent to the state or local health department. Your insurance company will have access to your results. Depending on the state you live in, your parent or guardian may be contacted.

What Happens if My Test Is Positive?

If you test positive for HIV, it is important to remember that with treatment you can live a long, healthy life. In fact, with early treatment, people with HIV can live about as long as people that are not infected.

A team approach will help you get the medical care and support that you need. Start by talking to your doctor or the counselor or social worker at the testing site. He or she can help you with suggestions on how to talk to your parents or guardians and how to find a health care provider who's an HIV specialist. By starting treatment as soon as possible, you can stay healthy and learn to live well with HIV.

If My Test Is Negative, Do I Need Get Tested Again? 

Talk to your doctor or the counselor or social worker at the testing site to see if you need to get tested again.

Some reasons to get tested again include if you:

  • have sex without a condom
  • are a guy who has sex with other guys
  • have had sex with more than three partners in the past year
  • get an STD (sexually transmitted disease)
  • share needles to inject drugs
  • are a woman and are pregnant

If My HIV Test Is Negative, Does that Mean My Sex Partner Is Negative Too?

If your HIV test is negative, it does not necessarily mean your partner is negative too. The only way to be sure that your partner does not have HIV is for him or her to get tested.

My HIV Test Is Negative — How Can I Keep it That Way?

You can reduce the risk of getting HIV by:

  • not having sex (called abstinence)
  • using a condom every time and for every form of sex (vaginal, anal, oral)
  • reducing the number of sex partners you have
  • making sure any sex partners have been tested for HIV
  • getting tested for STDs (having an STD makes it easier to get infected with HIV)
  • not sharing needles to inject drugs

Reviewed by: Krishna Wood White, MD, MPH
Date Reviewed: Oct 1, 2018

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