How to Tell If You Are HIV Positive

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The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the virus that causes the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), cannot be detected except through a laboratory test. People can carry the virus without having symptoms. You should be tested for antibodies to HIV in the following circumstances: if you know or suspect that you've been with a sexual partner who has HIV; if you have unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex with anonymous partners, multiple partners or men who have sex with other men; or if you are an intravenous drug user. To be tested for HIV you have two options. You can go to a clinic or medical facility. Or you can take an at-home test and send it anonymously to a laboratory for results.

Decide which testing service you will use for your HIV test—an at-home test or a clinical testing center.

Purchase the at-home test if you choose this option. The FDA has approved only one at-home test kit, the Home Access® HIV-1 Test System. Follow the instructions that come with the kit. You must make a pre-test phone call to a Home Access counselor in order to register the kit and receive your anonymous code number. A simple, quick finger-stick is required to draw blood for a testing sample. Mail the test as directed. You're responsible for calling Home Access to get your results using the code number.

Make an appointment at a local clinic if that's your choice. Call CDC-INFO at (800) 232-4636 for the HIV test site nearest you. Most clinics conduct HIV tests anonymously.

Arrive at the appointed time for your in-person appointment. Fill out all paperwork as requested and allow the technician to draw your sample. You may be tested using a sample of blood, oral fluid or urine.

Wait for the results of your HIV test. Some clinics may use a quick-response test that provides a response while you wait. Results from other types of testing can take up to a week to be returned. If you're concerned about the time frame, ask what testing methods are available when making your appointment at the clinic. Quick-response tests may use blood or oral fluid as test samples and may not be available at all clinics. At-home testing kits don't provide quick-response tests.

Get retested if you test positive for HIV antibodies. A clinic will always ask to conduct a second test to verify the results. Follow the instructions provided by the clinician handling your visit. At-home testing counselors will assist you with local referrals for a second test. Pre-test and post-test counseling are available with an at-home test kit.

Continue the fight against HIV, even if your test results are negative. Practice safe sex. This includes using a latex or vinyl condom or dental barrier when having anal, vaginal or oral sex. If you use intravenous drugs, don't share or reuse needles. If you have multiple sex partners or other risk factors, you should be tested for HIV yearly.

Tips & Warnings

  • Testing positive is not a death sentence. See a health-care provider who has experience treating people with HIV. Anti-viral treatments now available allow for a long and healthy life. If you feel well now, maintaining your health can help you to fight this virus. If you test negative for HIV that does not mean your partner or partners are negative. Whether or not you test positive for HIV, practicing safe sex, including using latex condoms, helps to protect you and others from further STDs. End substance abuse of any kind as it can weaken your immune response.
  • Stop having unprotected sex if you test positive for HIV. Stop sharing or reusing needles if you're an IV drug user.

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