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What Is HIV?

June 2013

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Do I Need to Get Tested for HIV?

The CDC estimates that about one in five HIV+ people in the US do not know they have HIV. Many of these people look and feel healthy and do not think they are at risk. But the truth is that anyone of any age, gender, race, sexual orientation, social group, or economic class can become infected. For more on how HIV is spread, see our info sheet on HIV transmission.

Answer the following questions:

  • Have you ever had vaginal, anal, or oral sex without a condom or other latex barrier (e.g., dental dam)?
  • Are you uncertain of your partner's status or is your partner HIV+?
  • Are you pregnant or considering becoming pregnant?
  • Have you ever had a sexually transmitted disease (STD)?
  • Do you have hepatitis C (HCV)?
  • Have you ever shared needles, syringes, or other equipment to inject drugs (including steroids or hormones)?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you should definitely get an HIV test. In the US, it is now recommended that everyone age 13-64 be screened for HIV at least once.


Why Should I Get Tested?

If you are worried because you think you may have been exposed to HIV, get tested. Then, if you learn that you are negative (not infected), you can stop worrying. If you test HIV+ there are effective medications to help you stay well. But you cannot get the health care and treatment you need if you do not know your HIV status (whether you are HIV+ or HIV-negative). Being unaware of your status also means that you could pass HIV to others without knowing it.

For women who plan to become pregnant, testing is especially important. If a woman is infected with HIV, medical care and certain drugs given during pregnancy can lower the chance of passing HIV to her baby. For more information, see our Pregnancy and HIV info sheet.


What Tests Are Available?

If you have been infected, your immune system will make antibodies against HIV. Antibodies are special proteins that our bodies make to identify "intruders" like viruses and bacteria. The most common HIV tests look for these antibodies in your blood, urine, or oral fluid (not your saliva). Your body will produce antibodies to HIV after three to six months. The period between infection and your body's production of HIV antibodies is called the "window period." Having a negative HIV test after the window period means you are not infected with HIV.

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If you want to get tested before the window period has passed, there are viral tests that look for the presence of HIV's genetic material in the blood and can identify an HIV infection within two to three weeks of exposure. For more information, see our HIV Testing info sheet.


Where Can I Get Tested?

There are many different types of places for you to get an HIV test. These include health clinics, private health care providers’ offices, HIV testing centers, and health departments. There are also HIV tests you can order online or buy over-the-counter at stores that have pharmacies (e.g., CVS, Walgreens, Walmart). These tests are ones that allow you to collect a sample or complete a full rapid test (20 minutes) in the privacy of your home.

In the US, you can go to the National HIV and STD Testing Resources website or the AIDS.gov website to find a testing site near you. You can also call the CDC's information line at 800-232-4636 or call your state's HIV/AIDS hotline (numbers listed here). To find services across the world, visit AIDSmap's e-atlas.


Is There a Vaccine to Prevent HIV Infection?

There is currently neither a vaccine nor a cure for HIV. The best way to prevent HIV is to use sterile needles and practice safer sex. For more information, see our info sheet on AIDS Vaccines.


Additional Information

As you learn more about HIV, you may find these articles helpful:

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This article was provided by The Well Project. Visit The Well Project's Web site to learn more about their resources and initiatives for women living with HIV. The Well Project shares its content with TheBody.com to ensure all people have access to the highest quality treatment information available. The Well Project receives no advertising revenue from TheBody.com or the advertisers on this site. No advertiser on this site has any editorial input into The Well Project's content.
 
See Also
More on HIV/AIDS Basics

Reader Comments:

Comment by: mugaite c. (Kampala Uganda) Thu., Jan. 24, 2013 at 8:24 am EST
many thanks for your educative information on your website.
Am called mugaite charles, from kampala Uganda East Africa,please help send to us more information about HIV AIDS,am postive living, biomedical technician professionally,

I,m working with ST. LWANGA BIOMEDICAL TECHNICAL CENTRE has workshop engineer for medical equipments.

I,m the General secretray of UNITY FOR HOPE MEETUP CLUB.

The unity for hope meetup club, is for HIV AIDS positive group, we do meetup every sunday evening at 4:30pm-6:30pm,we have ARVS study class every thursday evening at 7:00pm-8:30pm,

so i encourage brethren to help us with more study guides for the Ugandan community living with HIV AIDS.

How do we teach the community?

We are connected to the internet, and we use computer projector.
Reply to this comment


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