skip navigation

Skip Nav

Education Materials

Education Materials

HIV Overview

HIV Testing

(Last updated 9/23/2014; last reviewed 9/23/2014)

Print

Key Points

  • HIV testing shows whether a person is infected with HIV. HIV is the virus that causes AIDS. AIDS is the most advanced stage of HIV infection.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends HIV testing for everyone 13 to 64 years old at least once as part of routine medical care. CDC also recommends that people at high risk of HIV infection get tested at least once a year. Risk factors for HIV infection include having unprotected sex (sex without a condom); having sex with many partners; and injecting drugs and sharing needles, syringes, or other drug equipment with others.
  • CDC also recommends that all pregnant women get tested for HIV as early as possible during each pregnancy.
  • People who test positive for HIV receive HIV medicines. HIV medicines help people with HIV live longer, healthier lives and reduce the risk of HIV transmission.

What is HIV testing?

HIV testing shows whether a person is infected with HIV. HIV is the virus that causes AIDS. AIDS is the most advanced stage of HIV infection.

HIV testing can detect HIV infection but it can’t tell how long a person has been HIV infected or if the person has AIDS.

Why is HIV testing important?

HIV testing helps protect your health. Whether testing shows you are HIV negative or HIV positive, you can take steps to protect your health.

If you are HIV negative:
Testing shows that you don’t have HIV. Continue taking steps to avoid getting HIV, such as using a condom during sex. For more information, read the AIDSinfo fact sheet on HIV prevention

If you are HIV positive:
Testing shows that you are infected with HIV, but you can still take steps to protect your health. Begin by talking to your health care provider about antiretroviral therapy (ART). ART is the use of HIV medicines to treat HIV infection. ART involves taking a combination of HIV medicines every day. ART helps people with HIV live longer, healthier lives. ART also reduces the risk of sexual transmission of HIV. Your health care provider will help you decide when to start treatment and what HIV medicines to take.

Who should get tested for HIV?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that health care providers test everyone 13 to 64 years old for HIV at least once as part of routine medical care. CDC recommends that people at increased risk of HIV infection get tested at least once a year.

Factors that increase the risk of HIV infection include:

  • Having vaginal or anal sex without using a condom with someone who is HIV positive or whose HIV status you don’t know
  • Injecting drugs and sharing needles, syringes, or other drug equipment with others
  • Exchanging sex for money or drugs
  • Having a sexually transmitted disease (STD), such as syphilis
  • Having hepatitis or tuberculosis (TB)   
  • Having sex with anyone who has any of the HIV risk factors listed above
Talk to your health care provider about your risk of HIV infection and a testing schedule that suits you.

Should pregnant women get tested for HIV?

CDC also recommends that all pregnant women get tested for HIV as early as possible during each pregnancy. Women who test HIV positive take HIV medicines during pregnancy and childbirth to reduce the risk of mother-to-child transmission of HIV. HIV medicines used as recommended during pregnancy can reduce the risk of mother-to-child transmission of HIV to less than 1%. 

Babies born to HIV-infected women receive HIV medicines for 6 weeks after birth. The HIV medicine protects the babies from infection with any HIV that passed from mother to child during childbirth.  

Because HIV can be transmitted in breast milk, HIV-infected women in the United States should not breastfeed their babies. In the United States, baby formula is a safe and healthy alternative to breast milk.  

What are the types of HIV tests?

The HIV antibody test is the most common HIV test. The test checks for HIV antibodies in blood, urine, or fluids from the mouth. HIV antibodies are disease-fighting proteins that the body produces in response to HIV infection. Once a person is infected with HIV, it generally takes about 3 months for the body to produce enough antibodies to be detected by an HIV antibody test. (For some people, it can take up to 6 months.) 

Some HIV tests can detect HIV directly in the blood before HIV antibodies are detectable. However, these HIV tests cost more and are used less often for routine HIV testing. 

A positive result on an first HIV test must be confirmed by a second, confirmatory HIV test. The confirmatory test typically used is a type of antibody test called a Western blot test. The test is done using a sample of blood. A positive Western blot test result confirms that a person is infected with HIV.  

How long does it take to get the results of an HIV test?

It usually takes a few days to a few weeks to get results of an HIV antibody test. Some rapid HIV antibody tests can produce results within 30 minutes.

Results from a Western blot test are usually available within a few days to a few weeks.

Is there an HIV test for home use?

There are two HIV tests approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for home use. 

The first test is a home collection kit, which involves pricking the finger for a blood sample, sending the sample to a lab for testing, and calling the lab for test results. Test results are available in about 1 week.

The other approved home use test comes with a test stick and a tube with a testing solution. The test stick is used to swab the gums to get a sample of oral fluids. To get results, the test stick is inserted into the test tube. Test results are ready in 20 to 40 minutes.

A positive result on a home HIV test must always be confirmed by a Western blot test done in a health care setting.

Learn more about HIV home test kits approved by FDA.

Is HIV testing confidential?

HIV testing can be confidential or anonymous. 

Confidential testing means that, even though your HIV test results will include your name and other identifying information, only people allowed to see your medical records will see your test results. If your HIV test results show that you are infected with HIV, this information may be reported to your local or state health department to be counted in statistical reports. Health departments remove all personal information (including names) from HIV test results.

Anonymous testing means you don’t have to give your name when you take an HIV test. When you take the test, you receive a number. To get your HIV test results, you give the number instead of your name.

This fact sheet is based on information from the following sources:

Back to Top