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Are You Positive You're Negative?

[Myths] and [Truths] About HIV Testing

January 16, 2009

[myth] I don't need an HIV test. There's no way I could be infected.

[truth] What you don't know can hurt you ... and those you care about.

A quarter of people in the U.S. who are HIV positive do not know it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This represents more than 250,000 people. Moreover, it is estimated that the majority of new HIV infections are passed on by people who don't know that they themselves are infected. Anyone who has had unprotected sex with someone who is HIV positive (or of unknown status), shared a needle (for piercings, tattoos or drugs) or had other body fluid to blood contact is at risk for HIV infection ... and for spreading the disease to others.

[myth] AIDS is over in America. It's only a problem in other countries.

[truth] Every day, more than 100 Americans become HIV positive.

The HIV epidemic continues to rage in the U.S. More than 40,000 Americans are newly infected every year -- that's an average of more than 100 new infections every single day. More than a million Americans are living with HIV/AIDS. What's more shocking is that, 26 years into the epidemic,10 percent of adult Americans say they don't know how, or aren't sure if they know how, to prevent the transmission of HIV.

[myth] I can tell if someone is HIV positive by looking at them.

[truth] People can be infected with HIV for more than 10 years without showing signs or symptoms.

Even if a partner looks healthy, it is important to know his or her HIV status.

[myth] I'm monogamous so I don't need to be tested.

[truth] Unless you are 100% sure that both you and your partner are HIV negative, monogamy is no guarantee.

Do you really know the intimate history of all your past partners? If you are HIV negative, being in a monogamous, long-term relationship with another HIV-negative person virtually eliminates the risk of contracting HIV. But unless you both get tested, there's no guarantee that either of you is HIV-free.

[myth] My annual checkup includes an HIV test, doesn't it?

[truth] Only if you ask for it.

Almost 90 percent of Americans say they would be comfortable being tested for HIV as part of routine medical examinations. But routine blood tests -- or pap tests that are part of routine gynecological exams -- do not automatically include a test for HIV. The CDC, amfAR and other leading voices say they should. The CDC has issued guidelines recommending that HIV testing occur during all routine medical examinations, but not all states have implemented the new guidelines. Right now, your doctor has to ask if you would be willing to be tested for HIV.

Or you can take control and say you want it done. It's your life, your health. Go for it.

[myth] If my doctor wants me to take an HIV test, I have to.

[truth] Your doctor can't test you without your consent.

HIV tests can only be done with the consent or at the request of the patient. Some states require written consent; for others, verbal consent is sufficient (visit for the requirements in your state). Based on the new CDC guidelines, you would still be informed that your blood was being tested, but you would be able to refuse the test if you wanted to.

[myth] At my age, I don't need to worry about HIV.

[truth] HIV infection is on the rise among older Americans, too.

People over 50 are one of the fastest growing segments of the population with HIV infection, representing 15 percent of new cases according to the CDC. This has something to do with the “Viagra effect” and even more to do with a host of cultural factors and false assumptions about the sexual activity of older adults. Actual HIV infection rates among older Americans are hard to know as a result of routine misdiagnosis, under-reporting and lack of testing. In other words, HIV testing is not just for the young.

[myth] If I have surgery, of course they'll test my blood for HIV.

[truth] Not unless you ask for it.

Forty-five percent of Americans think that a person is automatically tested for HIV before having surgery. The truth is that HIV testing is still not a standard protocol for surgeries and other major medical procedures, whether scheduled or in emergency rooms.

[myth] I give blood, so I've been tested for HIV.

[truth] If you tested positive, you may not have been told.

Nearly all donated blood is tested for HIV. But not all donors who test positive are told. While it has become standard protocol for blood banks to test each and every donation for HIV, there is no legal mandate to automatically inform individual donors of positive results.

[myth] Women giving birth are routinely given an HIV test.

[truth] No, they aren't.

Fifty percent of Americans believe that women are automatically tested for HIV during prenatal exams. Under current protocols, however, an HIV test is done only if requested or agreed to by the mother-to-be. Yet all expectant women should be tested as early in pregnancy as possible. Current drugs significantly lower the chances of an infected mother passing HIV to her baby during pregnancy and birth.

[myth] If I test negative, my worries are over.

[truth] If you're having unprotected sex with a partner who is HIV positive or whose status is unknown to you, you need to get tested regularly.

It can take a few weeks or even months for HIV antibodies to reach detectable levels. And every time there's even a slight chance you've risked exposure, you need another test.

[myth] I can't live with the results.

[truth] If you're positive, you can't live without knowing. And those you love need you to get tested today.

Living and living well with HIV requires that you work closely with a healthcare provider to monitor the effects the virus is having on your body. At some point, you will need to take medications (antiretroviral drugs) that can keep the virus at bay. Many people have been living with HIV for a very long time and continue to do well with the help and support of care providers, family, and friends.

Get tested. You need to know your status.

HIV Testing Resources

amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research

CDC National AIDS Hotline

CDC database of testing sites

Kaiser Family Foundation fact sheet:
HIV testing in the US

Kaiser Family Foundation survey report:
American public opinion on HIV testing

CDC revised recommendations for HIV testing guide to HIV testing

The Body:
HIV testing information, news, and research

Information Sources

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Kaiser Family Foundation

amfAR study conducted online by Harris Interactive; a full methodology is available.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), roughly a quarter of the 1.2 million Americans who are HIV positive do not know they are infected. This means that many are transmitting the virus to others without knowing it.

If there's even a slim chance that you may have been exposed to HIV, don't wait. Get tested. For more information on HIV and how it is transmitted, visit

[Prevention Is the Cure.]

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This article was provided by amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research. Visit amfAR's website to find out more about their activities and publications.
See Also
Quiz: Are You at Risk for HIV?
10 Common Fears About HIV Transmission
More on HIV Testing

Reader Comments:

Comment by: Anonymous (Nigeria) Fri., Jul. 11, 2014 at 2:22 am UTC
I tested positive for hiv 18 october 2013 but from november 2013 am testing negative upto 19 time now were in july 2014 am confuse i dont no wether am infected or am not please o need some answers pls help me
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Comment by: teddy bear Williams (eugene,oregon) Sun., Dec. 16, 2012 at 2:12 pm UTC
So if they discover the same tattoo and said it was not in their files( you can clearly tell its old by its color and fade... ..)? This is what my boyfriend told me about why he no longer donates plasma ?i did ask him if it was for a certain lentgh of time because it was a tattoo ?but he said ,no for ever ! is it common for plasma banks to do this after a person had been coming to them for so long
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Comment by: theszak Sat., Jan. 21, 2012 at 8:15 am UTC
The strategy... BEFORE sex get tested TOGETHER for A VARIETY of STDs then make an INFORMED decision
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Comment by: Anna Motlhabi (1094 phase1 freedompark Rustenburg) Thu., May. 26, 2011 at 6:38 am UTC
I'm positive en i'm proud of my status.I understand everything,i wish all people must be tested.
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Comment by: ADZOR IGBADOO ISAAC (Benue State,Nigeria,West Africa) Tue., Jan. 12, 2010 at 1:10 pm UTC
It is rather a pity that the human race is yet to find a cure for hiv/AIDS.What has however been a puzzle for me is situations where one partner tests positive and the other remains negative eventhough both had practised unprotected sex at several times.Let the medical field throw light on such situations.
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Comment by: harish sharma (delhi india) Mon., Oct. 19, 2009 at 5:07 am UTC
myth] If I test negative, my worries are over.

[truth] If you're having unprotected sex with a partner who is HIV positive or whose status is unknown to you, you need to get tested regularly.

It can take a few weeks or even months for HIV antibodies to reach detectable levels. And every time there's even a slight chance you've risked exposure, you need another test.

but after how many months testing after an unprotected sex the results come true
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Comment by: Mike (Kentucky!) Mon., Feb. 2, 2009 at 10:38 pm UTC
You know it is really sad that this far along in the HIV/AIDS epedemic that we can't give people more help! We describe early symptoms of HIV as sore throats, mild fevers, or a host of other inordinate and mondane symptoms. People will have sex and after a trust develops they probally will have unprotected sex. If some one tells their partner they are HIV negative is that partner to believe them! It is a sad state of affairs. I have never been more dissapointed in the medical profession as I have been over the lack of results on this horrible disease that is now taking our children from us. What about the poor 16 year old high school girl who makes a simple mistake and now has to suffer her whole life or anyone who makes a simple mistake in judgement. If something is not done HIV/AIDS will take our nation by storm and ruin our children. Hear me people sex will happen and not all of it will be safe sex. It's nature. So the medical profession and the Government had better step up to the plate and find something that is either a cure or something that pust HIV on line with Herpes, or something like that. I have lost two cousins to the disease and no wonder people don't know they have it. How many of you would go to the doctor for a sore throat. I mean every symptom I read about is so insignificant. They don't even say to look for clusters of illness. I mean if all I ever have is a sore throat does that mean I have HIV seroconversion. Or if I have diarrea all alone does theat mean HIV serroconversion. Wow what a mess this disease has caused. What does this disease say about society as well. We have ridiculed, ostrosized, and disowned the ones who need us most those sick with this dreaded disease. Any of us can get this disease. Condoms break, partners lie about being tested because they assume we are over concerned and they feel well, people make mistakes, and that is just the truth of the matter. We need social understanding and medical research.
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