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HIV Testing 101

By Bonnie Goldman

January 4, 2010

Is It a Risk?

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There's only one way to find out for sure whether you have HIV: Get tested. Although some people feel symptoms when they've been newly infected with HIV, most people don't. That's one reason why HIV continues to spread throughout the world: Millions of people are estimated to be living with HIV without even knowing it. That's why it's so important for everybody to get tested regularly for HIV, if they have sex or use injection drugs.

It's completely normal to get nervous, scared or even a little paranoid when you think you've put yourself at risk for HIV. An HIV test -- taken at least six weeks after the risky event -- can answer that question. Approved HIV tests are extremely reliable. There's even a saliva test you can take at many doctor's offices or clinics that will give you results in less than half an hour. (If it comes out positive, you'll need to get an even more reliable blood test, known as a Western Blot, that will confirm the results in a couple of weeks.) And don't forget, if you are at risk for HIV from sex, then you are also at risk for other sexually transmitted diseases that can be much easier to get.

If you live in the United States and are concerned about your privacy, in much of the United States, especially in cities, there are clinics and hospitals where you can be tested for HIV completely anonymously. There are even places that will help you notify past partners if you do test positive for HIV.

Want to learn more about HIV testing? Read through these excellent overviews:

For more info on HIV testing, be sure to browse our full listing of overviews, news and research articles. If you'd like to get tested for HIV, talk to your doctor or call a local HIV/AIDS hotline or HIV organization to find out about trustworthy places you can go for testing.

If you live in the United States, you can get tested at no charge for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases at state health departments. Planned parenthood also offers free testing. Check out this resource for a comprehensive list of HIV testing sites. Finally, don't forget that if you test positive for HIV, it's not the end of the world. Even if you don't have health insurance, you can get free HIV treatment and if you take care of yourself, you can live a long and healthy life.

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