The Body: The Complete HIV/AIDS Resource Follow Us Follow Us on Facebook Follow Us on Twitter 
Professionals >> Visit The Body PROThe Body en Espanol

Fact Sheet: HIV Testing

December 1998

Although it is estimated that between 650,000 and 900,000 Americans are currently infected with HIV, it has been estimated that only one fifth to one third of the U.S. adult population has been tested for the disease. Hundreds of thousands of American adults may be unaware of their HIV status and continue to engage in behavior that could jeopardize their health and that of many others.

All sexually active adolescents and adults, particularly African Americans, Latinos and MSM; any injection drug users; and any pregnant women who fall into high-risk groups, should be tested for HIV. For more information on HIV testing or HIV/AIDS, please contact the CDC National AIDS Hotline: 1-800-342-AIDS; Spanish: 1-800-344-SIDA; hearing impaired: 1-800-243-7889 (TTY).

Testing Centers

HIV testing is available at most hospitals, family planning or sexually transmitted disease (STD) clinics, community health centers, drug treatment facilities, and doctors' offices. Most testing sites offer free or inexpensive tests. Contact your local health department for testing centers in your area.


Privacy and Testing

It is important for anyone having an HIV test to understand the confidentiality policies of the testing center. Testing facilities offer two types of test procedures: confidential and anonymous.

  • Confidential HIV Testing centers record the person's name along with the results of his/her test. The only people with access to your test results are medical personnel and, in some states, the state health department. However, your status may become known if you sign a release form to have your personal physician notified. Once this information becomes part of your medical record, even a student's medical record at a college or university, it may be seen by health care workers, insurers or employers. Your status also may become known if you make a claim for health insurance benefits or apply for life insurance or disability insurance.

  • Anonymous HIV Testing means that no name is ever given to the testing center and only the person who is having the test is aware of the results. Anonymous testing is available in 40 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico as of May 1997. State laws are, however, subject to change. You may check with the CDC National AIDS Hotline (1-800-342-AIDS) for the most up-to- date information.

Available Tests
(all may not be available at all sites)

1. Antibody Blood Tests

  • Antibody blood tests are used to detect HIV antibodies in the bloodstream. The most common screening tests used today are EIA (enzyme immunoassay) and the ELISA (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay). A second test, referred to as the Western Blot test, is run to confirm a positive result.

  • When the EIA or ELISA is used in conjunction with the Western Blot confirmation test, the results are more than 99.9% accurate.

  • Results from EIA/ELISA HIV tests are usually available several days to several weeks later.

2. Home Testing Kits

  • Home Testing Kits, also referred to as Home Blood Collection Systems, contain HIV/AIDS literature and materials that permit you to take your own blood sample, which you then mail to a testing facility where your HIV status will be determined.

  • Results are accessed by an anonymous identification number and are given over the telephone several days later.

  • Home Testing Kits are sold in drugstores and health clinics throughout the country and are available by mail. Contact the CDC National Prevention Information Network for more information: 1-800-458-5231 (English/Spanish) or 1-800-243-7012 (TTY).

3. Oral Testing for HIV

  • Oral HIV antibody EIA and oral HIV antibody Western Blot tests are alternatives to blood tests. Oral testing is done with samples of mucus from inside the cheeks and gums rather than with blood.

  • Oral tests have been approved by the FDA and are as accurate as blood tests.

  • Home test kits are not yet available.

  • This test is done to detect the presence of HIV antibodies, not the virus itself. No cases of HIV transmission have been attributed to saliva.

HIV Test Results

HIV tests can identify HIV antibodies in the blood as early as two weeks after infection, but the body may take up to six months to make a measurable amount of antibodies. The average time is 25 days.

  • A seropositive result on an HIV test means that HIV antibodies are present in your bloodstream and you are HIV positive. The onset of AIDS may take up to 10 or more years. Drug treatments are available that can further delay the development of AIDS.

  • A seronegative result usually indicates that you are not infected with HIV. However, you should be retested in six months if you have engaged in high-risk behavior during the past six months, because it can take this long for your immune system to produce enough antibodies.

Anyone who receives an HIV test should seek counseling before and after the test in order to understand the results, discuss prevention methods, and, if necessary, discuss drug treatment options.

National HIV Testing Day is June 27, 1999 -- Get your community involved!

For more information, contact the National Association of People with AIDS at (202) 898-0414.

Back | Next
Table of Contents

This article was provided by American Association for World Health. It is a part of the publication Be a Force for Change.
See Also
Quiz: Are You at Risk for HIV?
10 Common Fears About HIV Transmission
More on HIV Testing


The content on this page is free of advertiser influence and was produced by our editorial team. See our advertising policy.