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HIV Testing Basic Questions and Answers

June 26, 2014

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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.

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Should I Get Tested for HIV?

CDC recommends that health care providers test everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 at least once as part of routine health care. One in six people in the United States who have HIV do not know they are infected.

Behaviors that put you at risk for HIV include having vaginal or anal sex without a condom or without being on medicines that prevent or treat HIV, or sharing injection drug equipment with someone who has HIV. If you answer yes to any of the following questions, you should definitely get an HIV test:

  • Have you had sex with someone who is HIV-positive or whose status you didn't know since your last HIV test?
  • Have you injected drugs (including steroids, hormones, or silicone) and shared equipment (or works, such as needles and syringes) with others?
  • Have you exchanged sex for drugs or money?
  • Have you been diagnosed with or sought treatment for a sexually transmitted disease, like syphilis?
  • Have you been diagnosed with or sought treatment for hepatitis or tuberculosis (TB)?
  • Have you had sex with someone who could answer yes to any of the above questions or someone whose history you don't know?

If you continue having unsafe sex or sharing injection drug equipment, you should get tested at least once a year. Sexually active gay and bisexual men may benefit from more frequent testing (e.g., every 3 to 6 months).

You should also get tested if

  • You have been sexually assaulted.
  • You are a woman who is planning to get pregnant or who is pregnant.


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How Can Testing Help Me?

Getting tested can give you some important information and can help keep you -- and others -- safe. For example,

  • Knowing your HIV status can give you peace of mind -- and testing is the only way you can know your HIV status for sure.
  • When you and your partner know each other's HIV status, you can make informed decisions about your sexual behaviors and how to stay safe.
  • If you are pregnant, or planning to get pregnant, knowing your status can help protect your baby from becoming infected.
  • If you find out you are HIV-positive, you can start taking medicine for your HIV. Getting treated for HIV improves your health, prolongs your life, and greatly lowers your chance of spreading HIV to others.
  • If you know you are HIV-positive, you can take steps to protect your sex partners from becoming infected.


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 providers in all health care settings make HIV testing a routine part of medical care for patients aged 13 to 64, unless the patient declines (opts out). This practice would get more people tested and help reduce the stigma around testing.

Even if you have been in a long-term relationship with one person, you should find out for sure whether you or your partner has HIV. If you are both HIV-negative and you both stay faithful (monogamous) and do not have other risks for HIV infection, then you probably won't need another HIV test unless your situation changes.


I Am Pregnant. Why Should I Get Tested?

HIV testing during each pregnancy is important because, if your result is positive, treatment can improve your health and greatly lower the chance that you will pass HIV to your infant before, during, or after birth. 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.

CDC recommends that health care providers screen all pregnant women for HIV, talk to them about HIV or give them written materials, and, for women with risk factors, provide referrals to prevention counseling.

Screening all pregnant women for HIV, and giving them the right medical care, helped decrease the number of babies born with HIV from a high of 1,650 in 1991 to 127 in 2011.

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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.
 
See Also
Quiz: Are You at Risk for HIV?
10 Common Fears About HIV Transmission
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