HIV testing

The only way to know for sure whether you have HIV is to get tested. CDC recommends that everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 get tested for HIV at least once as part of routine health care. Knowing your HIV status gives you powerful information to help you take steps to keep you and your partner healthy. 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.

As a part of the world-renowned AIDS Healthcare Foundation, AHF Healthcare Centers offer the most accurate testing procedures and the most advanced therapies available. We are committed to delivering personalized, leading-edge care to patients with HIV/AIDS or other immunological deficiencies. Click here to find an AHF Healthcare center near you.

SHOULD I GET TESTED FOR HIV?

Everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 get tested for HIV at least once as part of routine health care. About 1 in 7 people in the United States who have HIV don’t know they have it.

People at higher risk should get tested more often. If you were HIV-negative the last time you were tested, and that test was more than one year ago, and you answer yes to any of the following questions, you should get an HIV test as soon as possible because these things increase your chances of getting the virus:

  • Are you a man who has had sex with another man?
  • Have you had sex—anal or vaginal—with an HIV-positive partner?
  • Have you had more than one sex partner since your last HIV test?
  • Have you injected drugs and shared needles or works (for example, water or cotton) with others?
  • Have you exchanged sex for drugs or money?
  • Have you been diagnosed with or sought treatment for another sexually transmitted disease?
  • Have you been diagnosed with or treated for hepatitis or tuberculosis (TB)?
  • Have you had sex with someone who could answer yes to any of the above questions or someone whose sexual history you don’t know?

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.

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.

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.
  • If you are pregnant, you should be tested for HIV so that you can begin treatment if you’re HIV-positive. If an HIV-positive woman is treated for HIV early in her pregnancy, the risk of transmitting HIV to her baby is very low.
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WHAT KINDS OF TESTS ARE THERE, AND HOW TO THEY WORK?

There are three types of tests available: nucleic acid tests (NAT), antigen/antibody tests, and antibody tests. HIV tests are typically performed on blood or oral fluid.

  1. A NAT looks for the actual virus in the blood. The test can give either a positive/negative result or an amount of virus present in the blood (known as an HIV 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 and they have early symptoms of HIV infection. Nucleic acid testing is usually considered accurate during the early stages of infection. However, it is best to get an antibody or antigen/antibody test at the same time to help the health care provider understand what a negative NAT means. Taking pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) or post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) may also reduce the accuracy of NAT if you have HIV.
  2. An antigen/antibody test looks for both HIV antibodies and antigens. Antibodies are produced by your immune system when you’re exposed to bacteria or viruses like HIV. Antigens are foreign substances that cause your immune system to activate. If you’re infected with HIV, an antigen called p24 is produced even before antibodies develop. Antigen/antibody tests are recommended for testing done in labs and are now common in the United States. There is also a rapid antigen/antibody test available.
  3. Most rapid tests and home tests are antibody tests. HIV antibody tests look for antibodies to HIV in your blood or oral fluid. In general, antibody tests that use blood from a vein can detect HIV sooner after infection than tests done with blood from a finger prick or with oral fluid.
    • While most laboratories are now using antigen/antibody tests, laboratory-based antibody screening tests are still available. These tests require blood to be drawn from your vein into a tube and then that blood is sent to a laboratory for testing. The results may take several days to be available.
    • With a rapid antibody screening test, results are ready in 30 minutes or less. These tests are used in clinical and nonclinical settings, usually with blood from a finger prick or with oral fluid.
    • The oral fluid antibody self-test provides fast results. You have to swab your own mouth to collect an oral fluid sample and use a kit to test it. Results are available in 20 minutes. The manufacturer provides confidential counseling and referral to follow-up testing sites. These tests are available for purchase in stores and online. They may be used at home, or they may be used for testing in some community and clinic testing programs.
    • The home collection kit involves pricking your finger to collect a blood sample, sending the sample by mail to a licensed laboratory, and then calling in for results as early as the next business day. This antibody test is anonymous. The manufacturer provides confidential counseling and referral to treatment.

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.

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.

how soon after EXPOSURE TO HIV CAN A TEST DETECT IF I AM INFECTED?

No HIV test can detect HIV immediately after infection. If you think you’ve been exposed to HIV in the last 72 hours, talk to your health care provider about post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP), right away.

The time between when a person may have been exposed to HIV and when a test can tell for sure whether they have HIV is called the window period. The window period varies from person to person and depends on the type of test used to detect HIV.

A nucleic acid test (NAT) can usually tell you if you are infected with HIV 10 to 33 days after an exposure.
An antigen/antibody test performed by a laboratory on blood from a vein can usually detect HIV infection 18 to 45 days after an exposure. Antigen/ antibody tests done with blood from a finger prick can take longer to detect HIV (18 to 90 days after an exposure). When the goal is to tell for sure that a person does not have HIV, an antigen/antibody test performed by a laboratory on blood from a vein is preferred.
Antibody tests can usually take 23 to 90 days to reliably detect HIV infection. Most rapid tests and home tests are antibody tests. In general, antibody tests that use blood from a vein can detect HIV sooner after infection than tests done with blood from a finger prick or with oral fluid.
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 after a potential HIV exposure and the result is negative, get tested again after the window period for the test you’re taking to be sure. If your health care provider uses an antigen/antibody test performed by a laboratory on blood from a vein you should get tested again 45 days after your most recent exposure. For other tests, you should test again at least 90 days after your most recent exposure to tell for sure if you have HIV.

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.

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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 an AHF Wellness Center, Out of the Closet or testing van near you here.

HOW MUCH DOES TESTING COST?

Getting an HIV test is free at all of our sites and at the sites of all of our partner organizations.

You can find an AHF Wellness Center, Out of the Closet or testing van near you here.

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

If you receive an HIV-positive test result, our trained and certified AHF counselors will walk you through the next steps. HIV is not curable, but it is treatable and the treatments are highly effective.

Caring for those living with HIV is our mission. If you test positive, our knowledgeable staff of counselors and medical providers will be with you to support you every step of the way.

All AHF facilities provide high quality healthcare regardless of a person’s ability to pay.

You can also find an AHF Wellness Center, Out of the Closet or testing van near you here.

40,000 us citizens were diagnosed with hiv last year.

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