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HIV Testing 101

September 21, 2016

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What Does a Negative Test Result Mean?

If your result is "HIV negative," this means that the test did not pick up any sign of HIV infection.

As explained above, tests can occasionally miss infections that were acquired in the past three months -- this is the "window period" of the test. So, if the test result is negative, you can consider that the result accurately tells you that you did not have HIV three months ago.

If you've had unprotected sex since then, it's possible that you could have acquired HIV since. If that's the case, you should have another test three months after the last event that could have exposed you to HIV.

Going forward, regular testing (for example, every six months or year) might be a good idea. You might also want to take to this opportunity to rethink the behaviors that put you at risk for HIV and consider ways that you could reduce your risk.


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What Does a Positive Result Mean?

It is very important that a positive test result is checked and confirmed. This is because "false positive" results can occasionally occur due to technical errors. Your blood should be tested again -- a second and maybe third time -- to check that the same result is given.

If your blood sample was sent to a lab for analysis, the lab will have already done this before you are told that the result is HIV positive. You can be confident that this result is accurate.

However, if you tested with a home testing kit or a rapid test (one that gives a result within a few minutes, in your presence), then the initial "reactive" or "positive" result will still need to be verified. You'll need extra tests to confirm the result. You may need to go to a medical facility for follow-up testing; you may only get the result after a few days.

If the confirmed result is "HIV positive," this means you have HIV. Take a deep breath and plan your next steps:

  • See a doctor, even if you don't feel sick. Prompt medical treatment is the best way to ensure that you live a long and healthy life.
  • Work out who you can turn to for emotional and social support. There are organizations out there that can help you.
  • Take steps to avoid passing HIV to others. This may include condoms and HIV treatment.
  • Get advice on disclosing your HIV status to sexual partners. In some states, this is a legal requirement.

There's information and advice on all of these points and more on TheBody.com's Resource Center for the Newly Diagnosed.


How Confidential Are HIV Test Results?

Most often, "confidential HIV testing" is offered. Your partner, family or employer won't be able to find out the result without your permission. As with other medical information, your results are protected by privacy laws.

Nonetheless, the result will go in your medical record and may be shared with health care providers and your insurance company. If the result of your test is that you have HIV, the state and local health departments will be informed. They may contact you, offering help with accessing medical care. They may also offer to contact your previous sexual partners (without disclosing your name) in order to suggest that these individuals take an HIV test, too. You don't have to agree to them doing this.

If you are not comfortable with these conditions, you might prefer "anonymous HIV testing." If an HIV test is taken anonymously, the organization providing the test won't know your name or personal details -- you will be given a unique identifier to receive the test result.

However, anonymous HIV testing is only available in some states and at some testing sites. To find out whether it is available, contact your local health department.

The other way to test anonymously is to use a home testing kit.


Copyright © 2016 Remedy Health Media, LLC. All rights reserved.

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