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Fact Sheet: HIV Counseling and Testing

December 1, 2001

What You Should Know About HIV Counseling and Testing

If you have engaged in any behavior that can transmit HIV, such as the ones detailed in this booklet, it is very important that you seek counseling and testing for HIV. Knowing your HIV status is the first step to seeking medical attention and gaining access to effective treatment that can prolong your life and delay the onset of AIDS.


Why Should I Be Tested for HIV?

First, if you know you are HIV-infected, you can have the benefits of treatment well before symptoms emerge. The earlier the start of treatment, the greater the delay in the onset of the serious complications associated with HIV or AIDS. Second, being aware of your HIV status enables you to take the necessary precautions to prevent spreading HIV to others.


Who Should Be Tested?

Testing and counseling is recommended for the following people:
  • Those who consider themselves at risk for HIV infection.

  • Persons who have had multiple partners or have had unprotected anal, oral or vaginal sex.

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  • Pregnant women and women who plan to become pregnant.

  • Partners of injection drug users (either spouses, sex partners, or needle-sharing partners).

  • People who have sexually-transmitted infections or who have been sexually abused.

  • Tuberculosis and hepatitis B and C patients.

  • Patients who received transfusions of blood or blood components between early 1978 and mid-1985.

The US government has mandated HIV screening for people in these groups:

  • Immigrants entering the US and inmates of Federal prisons.


Where Can I Get Tested for HIV?

Many places offer HIV testing, including local health departments, private doctors' offices, university health services, hospitals, family planning or sexually-transmitted infection clinics, drug treatment facilities, and sites specifically for HIV testing. Choose a place that provides counseling about the meaning of the test results, advice on how to protect yourself and others, and referrals to the AIDS-related resources in your area.


How Long Does It Take to Get Test Results and Are these Results Accurate?

Results are usually available within several days to several weeks depending on the testing site. Test results are more than 99.9% accurate.


What Do the Test Results Mean?

A Positive Result

A positive result means antibodies to HIV were found in your blood. This means you have been infected with HIV and are HIV-positive. The onset of AIDS varies from person to person, but may take up to 10 years. Prompt medical care may delay the onset of AIDS and prevent some life-threatening conditions.


A Negative Result

This means that no HIV antibodies were found in your blood. However, there is still a possibility of being infected, since it can take up to 6 months for your immune system to produce enough antibodies to show infection in a blood test. To be sure, you must be retested at least 6 months after you last engaged in behavior that can transmit HIV.


If I Test Negative, Does that Mean that My Partner Is Also Negative?

Your negative test result does not indicate your partner's HIV status. Infection with HIV may not occur every time there is an exposure; therefore, it is vital that your partner also be tested.


Remember

Testing should never be used in place of protecting yourself from infection. Always protect yourself when engaging in behavior that could put you at risk for HIV infection.


  
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This article was provided by American Association for World Health. It is a part of the publication I Care ... Do You? Youth and AIDS in the 21st Century.
 
See Also
Quiz: Are You at Risk for HIV?
10 Common Fears About HIV Transmission
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