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Testing

The only way to know for sure whether you have HIV is to get tested. This section answers some of the most common questions related to HIV testing, including the types of tests available, where to get one, and what to expect when you get tested.

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Should I get tested for HIV?

CDC recommends that everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 get tested for HIV at least once as part of routine health care. About 1 in 8 people in the United States who have HIV don’t know they have it.

People with certain risk factors should get tested more often. If you were HIV-negative the last time you were tested and answer yes to any of the following questions, you should get an HIV test because these things increase your chances of getting HIV:

You should be tested at least once a year if you keep doing any of these things. Sexually active gay and bisexual men may benefit from more frequent testing (for example, every 3 to 6 months).

If you’re pregnant, talk to your health care provider about getting tested for HIV and other ways to protect you and your child from getting HIV. Also, anyone who has been sexually assaulted should get an HIV test as soon as possible after the assault and should consider post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP), taking antiretroviral medicines after being potentially exposed to HIV to prevent becoming infected.

Before having sex for the first time with a new partner, you and your partner should talk about your sexual and drug-use history, disclose your HIV status, and consider getting tested for HIV and learning the results.

Learn more about how to protect yourself, and get information tailored to meet your needs from CDC’s HIV Risk Reduction Tool (BETA).

How can testing help me?

The only way to know for sure whether you have HIV is to get tested.

Knowing your HIV status gives you powerful information to help you take steps to keep you and your partner healthy.

  • If you test positive, you can take medicine to treat HIV to stay healthy for many years and greatly reduce the chance of transmitting HIV to your sex partner.
  • If you test negative, you have more prevention tools available today to prevent HIV than ever before.

Learn more about how to protect yourself, and get information tailored to meet your needs from CDC’s HIV Risk Reduction Tool (BETA).

I don't believe I am at high risk. Why should I get tested?

Some people who test positive for HIV were not aware of their risk. That’s why CDC recommends that everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 get tested for HIV at least once as part of routine health care.

Even if you are in a monogamous relationship (both you and your partner are having sex only with each other), you should find out for sure whether you or your partner has HIV.

See Should I get tested for HIV? to learn more about who is at high risk for HIV and should be tested more often.

Learn more about how to protect yourself, and get information tailored to meet your needs from CDC’s HIV Risk Reduction Tool (BETA).

I am pregnant. Why should I get tested?

All pregnant women should be tested for HIV so that they can begin treatment if they’re HIV-positive. If a woman is treated for HIV early in her pregnancy, the risk of transmitting HIV to her baby can be very low. Testing pregnant women for HIV infection and treating those who are infected have led to a big decline in the number of children infected with HIV from their mothers.

The treatment is most effective for preventing HIV transmission to babies when started as early as possible during pregnancy. However, there are still great health benefits to beginning preventive treatment even during labor or shortly after the baby is born.

Learn more about how to protect yourself, and get information tailored to meet your needs from CDC’s HIV Risk Reduction Tool (BETA).

What kinds of tests are available, and how do they work?

There are three broad types of tests available: antibody tests, combination or fourth-generation tests, and nucleic acid tests (NAT). HIV tests may be performed on blood, oral fluid, or urine.

  1. Most HIV tests, including most rapid tests and home tests, are antibody tests. Antibodies are produced by your immune system when you’re exposed to viruses like HIV or bacteria. HIV antibody tests look for these antibodies to HIV in your blood or oral fluid. In general, antibody tests that use blood can detect HIV slightly sooner after infection than tests done with oral fluid.

    It can take 3 to 12 weeks (21-84 days) for an HIV-positive person’s body to make enough antibodies for an antibody test to detect HIV infection. This is called the window period. Approximately 97% of people will develop detectable antibodies during this window period. If you get a negative HIV antibody test result during the window period, you should be re-tested 3 months after your possible exposure to HIV.

If you use any type of antibody test and have a positive result, you will need to take a follow-up test to confirm your results. If your first test is a rapid home test and it’s positive, you will be sent to a health care provider to get follow-up testing. If your first test is done in a testing lab and it’s positive, the lab will conduct the follow-up testing, usually on the same blood sample as the first test.

  1. A combination, or fourth-generation, test looks for both HIV antibodies and antigens. Antigens are foreign substances that cause your immune system to activate. The antigen is part of the virus itself and is present during acute HIV infection (the phase of infection right after people are infected but before they develop antibodies to HIV). If you’re infected with HIV, an antigen called p24 is produced even before antibodies develop. Combination screening tests are now recommended for testing done in labs and are becoming more common in the United States. There is now a rapid combination test available.

    It can take 2 to 6 weeks (13 to 42 days) for a person’s body to make enough antigens and antibodies for a combination, or fourth-generation, test to detect HIV. This is called the window period. If you get a negative combination test result during the window period, you should be retested 3 months after your possible exposure.
  1. A nucleic acid test (NAT) looks for HIV in the blood. It looks for the virus and not the antibodies to the virus. The test can give either a positive/negative result or an actual amount of virus present in the blood (known as a viral load test). This test is very expensive and not routinely used for screening individuals unless they recently had a high-risk exposure or a possible exposure with early symptoms of HIV infection.

    It can take 7 to 28 days for a NAT to detect HIV. Nucleic acid testing is usually considered accurate during the early stages of infection. However, it is best to get an antibody or combination test at the same time to help the doctor interpret the negative NAT. This is because a small number of people naturally decrease the amount of virus in their blood over time, which can lead to an inaccurate negative NAT result. Taking pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) or post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) may also reduce the accuracy of NAT if you have HIV.

Talk to your health care provider to see what type of HIV test is right for you.

After you get tested, it’s important for you to find out the result of your test so that you can talk to your health care provider about treatment options if you’re HIV-positive. If you’re HIV-negative, continue to take actions to prevent HIV, like using condoms the right way every time you have sex and taking medicines to prevent HIV if you’re at high risk.

Learn more about how to protect yourself, and get information tailored to meet your needs from CDC’s HIV Risk Reduction Tool (BETA).

How soon after an exposure to HIV can an HIV test detect if I am infected?

No HIV test can detect HIV immediately after infection. If you think you’ve been exposed to HIV, talk to your health care provider as soon as possible.

The time between when a person gets HIV and when a test can accurately detect it is called the window period. The window period varies from person to person and also depends upon the type of HIV test.

Ask your health care provider about the window period for the test you’re taking. If you’re using a home test, you can get that information from the materials included in the test’s package. If you get an HIV test within 3 months after a potential HIV exposure and the result is negative, get tested again in 3 more months to be sure.

If you learned you were HIV-negative the last time you were tested, you can only be sure you’re still negative if you haven’t had a potential HIV exposure since your last test. If you’re sexually active, continue to take actions to prevent HIV, like using condoms the right way every time you have sex and taking medicines to prevent HIV if you’re at high risk. Learn the right way to use a male condom.

Learn more about how to protect yourself, and get information tailored to meet your needs from CDC’s HIV Risk Reduction Tool (BETA).

Where can I get tested?

You can ask your health care provider for an HIV test. Many medical clinics, substance abuse programs, community health centers, and hospitals offer them too. You can also find a testing site near you by

You can also buy a home testing kit at a pharmacy or online.

Learn more about how to protect yourself, and get information tailored to meet your needs from CDC’s HIV Risk Reduction Tool (BETA).

What should I expect when I go in for an HIV test?

If you take a test in a health care setting, when it’s time to take the test, a health care provider will take your sample (blood or oral fluid), and you may be able to wait for the results if it’s a rapid HIV test. If the test comes back negative, and you haven’t had an exposure for 3 months, you can be confident you’re not infected with HIV.

If your HIV test result is positive, you may need to get a follow-up test to be sure you have HIV.

Your health care provider or counselor may talk with you about your risk factors, answer questions about your general health, and discuss next steps with you, especially if your result is positive.

See Will other people know my test result?

Learn more about how to protect yourself, and get information tailored to meet your needs from CDC’s HIV Risk Reduction Tool (BETA).

What does a negative test result mean?

A negative result doesn’t necessarily mean that you don't have HIV. That's because of the window period— the time between when a person gets HIV and when a test can accurately detect it. The window period varies from person to person and is also different depending upon the type of HIV test. (See How soon after an exposure to HIV can an HIV test detect if I am infected?)

Ask your health care provider about the window period for the test you’re taking. If you’re using a home test, you can get that information from the materials included in the test’s package. If you get an HIV test within 3 months after a potential HIV exposure and the result is negative, get tested again in 3 more months to be sure.

If you learned you were HIV-negative the last time you were tested, you can only be sure you’re still negative if you haven’t had a potential HIV exposure since your last test. If you’re sexually active, continue to take actions to prevent HIV, like using condoms the right way every time you have sex and taking medicines to prevent HIV if you’re at high risk. Learn the right way to use a male condom.

Learn more about how to protect yourself, and get information tailored to meet your needs from CDC’s HIV Risk Reduction Tool (BETA).

If I have a negative result, does that mean that my partner is HIV-negative also?

No. Your HIV test result reveals only your HIV status.

HIV is not necessarily transmitted every time you have sex. Therefore, taking an HIV test is not a way to find out if your partner is infected.

It’s important to be open with your partners and ask them to tell you their HIV status. But keep in mind that your partners may not know or may be wrong about their status, and some may not tell you if they have HIV even if they know they’re infected. Consider getting tested together so you can both know your HIV status and take steps to keep yourselves healthy.

Learn more about how to protect yourself, and get information tailored to meet your needs from CDC’s HIV Risk Reduction Tool (BETA).

What does a positive result mean?

A follow-up test will be conducted. If the follow-up test is also positive, it means you are HIV-positive.

If you had a rapid screening test, the testing site will arrange a follow-up test to make sure the screening test result was correct. If your blood was tested in a lab, the lab will conduct a follow-up test on the same sample.

It is important that you start medical care and begin HIV treatment as soon as you are diagnosed with HIV. Anti-retroviral therapy or ART (taking medicines to treat HIV infection) is recommended for all people with HIV, regardless of how long they’ve had the virus or how healthy they are. It slows the progression of HIV and helps protect your immune system. ART can keep you healthy for many years and greatly reduces your chance of transmitting HIV to sex partners if taken the right way, every day.

If you have health insurance, your insurer is required to cover some medicines used to treat HIV. If you don’t have health insurance, or you’re unable to afford your co-pay or co-insurance amount, you may be eligible for government programs that can help through Medicaid, Medicare, the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program, and community health centers. Your health care provider or local public health department can tell you where to get HIV treatment.

To lower your risk of transmitting HIV,

Receiving a diagnosis of HIV can be a life-changing event. People can feel many emotions—sadness, hopelessness, and even anger. Allied health care providers and social service providers, often available at your health care provider’s office, will have the tools to help you work through the early stages of your diagnosis and begin to manage your HIV.

Talking to others who have HIV may also be helpful. Find a local HIV support group. Learn about how other people living with HIV have handled their diagnosis.

You can view stories and testimonials of how people are living well with HIV on the websites for Let’s Stop HIV Together and HIV Treatment Works. You can also find many other resources on HIV Treatment Works for people living with HIV.

Learn more about how to protect yourself, and get information tailored to meet your needs from CDC’s HIV Risk Reduction Tool (BETA).

If I test positive for HIV, does that mean I have AIDS?

No. Being HIV-positive does not mean you have AIDS. AIDS is the most advanced stage of HIV disease. HIV can lead to AIDS if not treated.

See Basic Information About HIV and AIDS for more information.

Learn more about how to protect yourself, and get information tailored to meet your needs from CDC’s HIV Risk Reduction Tool (BETA).

Will other people know my test result?

If you take an anonymous test, no one but you will know the result. If you take a confidential test, your test result will be part of your medical record, but it is still protected by state and federal privacy laws.

With confidential testing, if you test positive for HIV, the test result and your name will be reported to the state or local health department to help public health officials get better estimates of the rates of HIV in the state. The state health department will then remove all personal information about you (name, address, etc.) and share the remaining non-identifying information with CDC. CDC does not share this information with anyone else, including insurance companies.

For more information, see AIDS.gov’s questions about civil rights, legal disclosure, insurance, and the workplace.

Learn more about how to protect yourself, and get information tailored to meet your needs from CDC’s HIV Risk Reduction Tool (BETA).

Should I share my positive test result with others?

It’s important to share your status with your sex partners. Whether you disclose your status to others is your decision.

Partners
It’s important to disclose your HIV status to your sex partners even if you’re uncomfortable doing it. Communicating with each other about your HIV status means you can take steps to keep both of you healthy. The more practice you have disclosing your HIV status, the easier it will become.

Many resources can help you learn ways to disclose your status to your partners. For tips on how to start the conversation with your partners, check out CDC’s Start Talking campaign.

If you’re nervous about disclosing your test result, or you have been threatened or injured by your partner, you can ask your doctor or the local health department to tell them that they might have been exposed to HIV. This is called partner notification services. Health departments do not reveal your name to your partners. They will only tell your partners that they have been exposed to HIV and should get tested.

Many states have laws that require you to tell your sexual partners if you’re HIV-positive before you have sex (anal, vaginal, or oral) or tell your drug-using partners before you share drugs or needles to inject drugs. In some states, you can be charged with a crime if you don’t tell your partner your HIV status, even if your partner doesn’t become infected.

Family and friends
In most cases, your family and friends will not know your test results or HIV status unless you tell them yourself. While telling your family that you have HIV may seem hard, you should know that disclosure actually has many benefits—studies have shown that people who disclose their HIV status respond better to treatment than those who don’t.

If you are under 18, however, some states allow your health care provider to tell your parent(s) that you received services for HIV if they think doing so is in your best interest. For more information, see the Guttmacher Institute’s State Policies in Brief: Minors’ Access to STI Services.

Employers
In most cases, your employer will not know your HIV status unless you tell them. But your employer does have a right to ask if you have any health conditions that would affect your ability to do your job or pose a serious risk to others. (An example might be a health care professional, like a surgeon, who does procedures where there is a risk of blood or other body fluids being exchanged.)

If you have health insurance through your employer, the insurance company cannot legally tell your employer that you have HIV. But it is possible that your employer could find out if the insurance company provides detailed information to your employer about the benefits it pays or the costs of insurance.

All people with HIV are covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act. This means that your employer cannot discriminate against you because of your HIV status as long as you can do your job. To learn more, see the Department of Justice’s website.

It may help you to hear stories about how others are living with HIV and how they’ve shared their status with partners, family, and friends. Visit our websites for Let’s Stop HIV Together and HIV Treatment Works.

Learn more about how to protect yourself, and get information tailored to meet your needs from CDC’s HIV Risk Reduction Tool (BETA).

Who will pay for my HIV test?

HIV screening is covered by health insurance without a co-pay, as required by the Affordable Care Act. If you do not have medical insurance, some testing sites may offer free tests. See Where can I get tested? for more information.

Learn more about how to protect yourself, and get information tailored to meet your needs from CDC’s HIV Risk Reduction Tool (BETA).

Who will pay for my treatment if I am HIV-positive?

If you have health insurance, your insurer is required to cover some medicines used to treat HIV. If you don’t have health insurance, or you’re unable to afford your co-pay or co-insurance amount, you may be eligible for government programs that can help through Medicaid, Medicare, the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program, and community health centers. Your health care provider or local public health department can tell you where to get HIV treatment.

See The Affordable Care Act and HIV/AIDS for more information.

Learn more about how to protect yourself, and get information tailored to meet your needs from CDC’s HIV Risk Reduction Tool (BETA).

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