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Basic Questions and Answers About HIV Testing

July 7, 2016

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Getting an HIV test is the only way to know if you have HIV. 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 go to get tested.

Table of Contents


Should I Get Tested for HIV?

CDC recommends that everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 get tested for HIV at least once as part of routine health care. About 1 in 8 people in the United States who have HIV don't know they have it.

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 health care 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.

Learn more about how to protect yourself, and get information tailored to meet your needs from CDC's HIV Risk Reduction Tool (BETA).


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How Can Testing Help Me?

The only way to know for sure whether you have HIV is to get tested.

Knowing your HIV status gives you powerful information to help you take steps to keep you and your partner healthy.

  • If you test positive, you can take medicine to treat HIV to stay healthy for many years and greatly reduce the chance of transmitting HIV to your sex partner.
  • If you test negative, you have more prevention tools available today to prevent HIV than ever before.
  • If you are pregnant, you should be tested for HIV so that you can begin treatment if you're HIV-positive. If an HIV-positive woman is treated for HIV early in her pregnancy, the risk of transmitting HIV to her baby can be very low.

Learn more about how to protect yourself, and get information tailored to meet your needs from CDC's HIV Risk Reduction Tool (BETA).


I Don't Believe I Am at High Risk. Why Should I Get Tested?

Some people who test positive for HIV were not aware of their risk. That's why CDC recommends that everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 get 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.

Learn more about how to protect yourself, and get information tailored to meet your needs from CDC's HIV Risk Reduction Tool (BETA).


I Am Pregnant. Why Should I Get Tested?

All pregnant women should be tested for HIV so that they can begin treatment if they're HIV-positive. If a woman is treated for HIV early in her pregnancy, the risk of transmitting HIV to her baby can be very low. Testing pregnant women for HIV infection and treating those who are infected have led to a big decline in the number of children infected with HIV from their mothers.

The treatment is most effective for preventing HIV transmission to babies when started as early as possible during pregnancy. However, there are still great health benefits to beginning preventive treatment even during labor or shortly after the baby is born.

Learn more about how to protect yourself, and get information tailored to meet your needs from CDC's HIV Risk Reduction Tool (BETA).

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This article was provided by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Visit the CDC's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.
 

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