The only way to know for sure whether you have HIV is to get tested. CDC recommends that everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 gets tested for HIV at least once as part of routine health care. Knowing your HIV status gives you powerful information to help you take steps to keep you and your partner healthy. This section answers some of the most common questions related to HIV testing, including the types of tests available, where to get one, and what to expect when you get tested.
Should I Get Tested for HIV?
People with certain risk factors should get tested more often. If you were HIV-negative the last time you were tested and answer yes to any of the following questions, you should get an HIV test because these things increase your chances of getting HIV:
Are you a man who has had sex with another man?
Have you had sex—anal or vaginal—with an HIV-positive partner?
Have you had more than one sex partner since your last HIV test?
Have you injected drugs and shared needles or works (for example, water or cotton) with others?
Have you exchanged sex for drugs or money?
Have you been diagnosed with or sought treatment for another sexually transmitted disease?
Have you been diagnosed with or treated for hepatitis or tuberculosis (TB)?
Have you had sex with someone who could answer yes to any of the above questions or someone whose sexual history you don’t know?
You should be tested at least once a year if you keep doing any of these things. Sexually active gay and bisexual men may benefit from more frequent testing (for example, every 3 to 6 months).
If you’re pregnant, talk to your healthcare provider about getting tested for HIV and other ways to protect you and your child from getting HIV. Also, anyone who has been sexually assaulted should get an HIV test as soon as possible after the assault and should consider post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP), taking antiretroviral medicines after being potentially exposed to HIV to prevent becoming infected.
Before having sex for the first time with a new partner, you and your partner should talk about your sexual and drug-use history, disclose your HIV status, and consider getting tested for HIV and learning the results.
I Don't Believe I am at High Risk. Why Get Tested?
Some people who test positive for HIV were not aware of their risk. That’s why the CDC recommends that everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 gets tested for HIV at least once as part of routine health care.
Even if you are in a monogamous relationship (both you and your partner are having sex only with each other), you should find out for sure whether you or your partner has HIV.
See Should I get tested for HIV? to learn more about who is at high risk for HIV and should be tested more often.
How Soon After an Exposure can an HIV Test Detect if I am Infected?
No HIV test can detect HIV immediately after infection. If you think you’ve been exposed to HIV, talk to your healthcare provider as soon as possible.
The time between when a person gets HIV and when a test can accurately detect it is called the window period. The window period varies from person to person and also depends upon the type of HIV test.
Most HIV tests are antibody tests. Antibodies are produced by your immune system when you’re exposed to viruses like HIV or bacteria. HIV antibody tests look for these antibodies to HIV in your blood or oral fluid.
The soonest an antibody test will detect infection is 3 weeks. Most (approximately 97%), but not all, people will develop detectable antibodies within 3 to 12 weeks (21 to 84 days) of infection.
What Does a Negative Test Result Mean?
A negative result doesn’t necessarily mean that you don't have HIV. That's because of the window period— the time between when a person gets HIV and when a test can accurately detect it. The window period varies from person to person and is also different depending on the type of HIV test.
If you learned you were HIV-negative the last time you were tested, you can only be sure you’re still negative if you haven’t had a potential HIV exposure since your last test. If you’re sexually active, continue to take actions to prevent HIV, like using condoms the right way every time you have sex and taking medicines to prevent HIV if you’re at high risk. Learn the right way to use a male condom.
What Does a Positive Test Result Mean?
A follow-up test will be conducted. If the follow-up test is also positive, it means you are HIV-positive.
If you had a rapid screening test, the testing site will arrange a follow-up test to make sure the screening test result was correct. If your blood was tested in a lab, the lab will conduct a follow-up test on the same sample.
It is important that you start medical care and begin HIV treatment as soon as you are diagnosed with HIV. Anti-retroviral therapy or ART (taking medicines to treat HIV infection) is recommended for all people with HIV, regardless of how long they’ve had the virus or how healthy they are. It slows the progression of HIV and helps protect your immune system. ART can keep you healthy for many years and greatly reduces your chance of transmitting HIV to sex partners if taken the right way, every day.
If you have health insurance, your insurer is required to cover some medicines used to treat HIV. If you don’t have health insurance, or you’re unable to afford your co-pay or co-insurance amount, you may be eligible for government programs that can help through Medicaid, Medicare, the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program, and community health centers. Your healthcare provider or local public health department can tell you where to get HIV treatment.
To lower your risk of transmitting HIV,
Take medicines to treat HIV (antiretroviral therapy or ART) the right way every day.
Use condoms the right way every time you have sex. Learn the right way to use a male condom.
If your partner is HIV-negative, encourage them to talk to their healthcare provider to see if taking daily medicine to prevent HIV (called pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP) is right for them.
If you think your partner might have been recently exposed to HIV—for example, if the condom breaks during sex and you aren’t virally suppressed—they should talk to a healthcare provider right away (within 3 days) about taking medicines (called post-exposure prophylaxis, or PEP) to prevent getting HIV.
Get tested and treated for STDs and encourage your partner to do the same.
Receiving a diagnosis of HIV can be a life-changing event. People can feel many emotions—sadness, hopelessness, and even anger. Allied health care providers and social service providers, often available at your health care provider’s office, will have the tools to help you work through the early stages of your diagnosis and begin to manage your HIV.
Talking to others who have HIV may also be helpful. Find a local HIV support group. Learn about how other people living with HIV have handled their diagnosis.
If I Test Positive for HIV, Does That Mean I Have AIDS?
No. Being HIV-positive does not mean you have AIDS. AIDS is the most advanced stage of HIV disease. HIV can lead to AIDS if not treated.
Will Other People Know My Test Result?
If you take an anonymous test, no one but you will know the result. If you take a confidential test, your test result will be part of your medical record, but it is still protected by state and federal privacy laws.
Anonymous testing means that nothing ties your test results to you. When you take an anonymous HIV test, you get a unique identifier that allows you to get your test results.
Confidential testing means that your name and other identifying information will be attached to your test results. The results will go on your medical record and may be shared with your health care providers and your health insurance company. Otherwise, the results are protected by state and federal privacy laws, and they can be released only with your permission.
With confidential testing, if you test positive for HIV, the test result and your name will be reported to the state or local health department to help public health officials get better estimates of the rates of HIV in the state. The state health department will then remove all personal information about you (name, address, etc.) and share the remaining non-identifying information with CDC. CDC does not share this information with anyone else, including insurance companies.
Should I Share My Positive Test Result with Others?
It’s important to share your status with your sex partners. Whether you disclose your status to others is your decision.
It’s important to disclose your HIV status to your sex partners even if you’re uncomfortable doing it. Communicating with each other about your HIV status means you can take steps to keep both of you healthy. The more practice you have disclosing your HIV status, the easier it will become.
Many resources can help you learn ways to disclose your status to your partners. For tips on how to start the conversation with your partners, check out CDC’s Start Talking campaign.
If you’re nervous about disclosing your test result, or you have been threatened or injured by your partner, you can ask your doctor or the local health department to tell them that they might have been exposed to HIV. This is called partner notification services. Health departments do not reveal your name to your partners. They will only tell your partners that they have been exposed to HIV and should get tested.
Many states have laws that require you to tell your sexual partners if you’re HIV-positive before you have sex (anal, vaginal, or oral) or tell your drug-using partners before you share drugs or needles to inject drugs. In some states, you can be charged with a crime if you don’t tell your partner your HIV status, even if your partner doesn’t become infected.
Family and friends
In most cases, your family and friends will not know your test results or HIV status unless you tell them yourself. While telling your family that you have HIV may seem hard, you should know that disclosure actually has many benefits—studies have shown that people who disclose their HIV status respond better to treatment than those who don’t.
If you are under 18, however, some states allow your health care provider to tell your parent(s) that you received services for HIV if they think doing so is in your best interest. For more information, see the Guttmacher Institute’s State Policies in Brief: Minors’ Access to STI Services.
In most cases, your employer will not know your HIV status unless you tell them. But your employer does have a right to ask if you have any health conditions that would affect your ability to do your job or pose a serious risk to others. (An example might be a health care professional, like a surgeon, who does procedures where there is a risk of blood or other body fluids being exchanged.)
If you have health insurance through your employer, the insurance company cannot legally tell your employer that you have HIV. But it is possible that your employer could find out if the insurance company provides detailed information to your employer about the benefits it pays or the costs of insurance.
All people with HIV are covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act. This means that your employer cannot discriminate against you because of your HIV status as long as you can do your job. To learn more, see the Department of Justice’s website.