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HIV Testing

July 23, 2014

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Are the Test Results Confidential?

You can be tested anonymously in many places. You do not have to give your name when you are tested at a public health office, or when you receive the test results. You can be tested anonymously for HIV as many times as you want.

If you get a positive HIV test that is not anonymous, or if you get any medical services for HIV infection, your HIV infection may be reported to the Department of Health and counted in statistical reports.

How Accurate Are the Tests?

Antibody test results for HIV are accurate more than 99.5% of the time. Before you get the results, the test has usually been done two or more times. The first test is called an "EIA" or "ELISA" test. Before a positive ELISA test result is reported, it is confirmed by another test called a "Western Blot." This is why home test kits cannot tell you if you have HIV infection. The sample you collect must be tested by a laboratory.


Some special cases can give false or unclear results:

  • Children born to HIV-positive mothers may have false positive antibody test results for several months because mothers pass many types of infection-fighting antibodies to their newborn children. Even if the children are not infected, they have HIV antibodies and will test positive for about 18 months. Other tests, such as a viral load test, must be used.
  • People who were recently infected may test negative during the window period if they get tested too soon after being infected with HIV.
  • Pregnant women may have false or unclear test results due to changes in their immune system.

In unusual cases, HIV test results can be unclear of "indeterminate." Another blood sample is taken for additional testing.

The Bottom Line

HIV testing generally looks for HIV antibodies in the blood, or saliva or urine. The immune system produces these antibodies to fight HIV. It usually takes two to three months for them to show up. In very rare cases, it can take longer than three months. During this "window period" you may not test positive for HIV even if you are infected. Normal HIV tests don't work for newborn children of HIV-infected mothers.

In many places, you can get tested anonymously for HIV. Home HIV tests are also available. Once you test positive and start to receive health care for HIV infection, your name may be reported to the Department of Health. These records are kept confidential.

A positive test result does not mean that you have AIDS. If you test positive, you should learn more about HIV and decide how to take care of your health.

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This article was provided by AIDS InfoNet. Visit AIDS InfoNet's website to find out more about their activities and publications.


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