It is now recommended that everyone 13 years old and older should get tested for HIV at least once. If a young person is having sex without protection (e.g. not using condoms), has a new partner, has or had an STI, or has other risks for getting HIV (such as IV drug use, or are men who have sex with men) they should get tested every 6-12 months. Ask your health care provider how often to get tested and whether you should consider taking PrEP medication to prevent HIV. Not everyone who is infected with HIV has symptoms or feels sick, so getting tested is the only way to know your status.
The number of new infections in young people (1 in 5 new infections are adolescents and young adults) makes it very important that everybody gets routine testing. Deciding to get tested can be the hardest part, so give yourself credit for taking the step to get tested. Testing is important in taking care of your sexual health and to stay healthy.
What is an HIV test like?
There are many places to get an HIV test, such as your primary care provider’s office or a special HIV testing clinic. You’ll first receive information about HIV, risk factors for HIV infection, and the types of different tests available. You will have time to ask questions and talk about any concerns about getting tested. It is your choice to get tested.
How does the HIV test work?
HIV is diagnosed using 2 main tests:
Blood Test (4th generation immunoassay)
This type of blood test takes about 1-2 weeks to get the results. Blood is drawn once from the arm and sent to the lab to be tested. A 4th generation test can find the HIV virus as soon as 2 weeks after infection, although if you have had risk/exposure to HIV within that window of time a retest in 2-3 months is recommended to get a definite answer. Some medical providers use an earlier version of HIV blood test that takes longer to detect HIV after infection (a window period of about 6-8 weeks). If you have had a recent risk/exposure, it is important to talk to your provider or tester about which HIV blood test they offer.
Rapid Test (finger stick test)
This test can be done in the office and results will come back the same day. The tester will prick your fingertip to collect a droplet of blood, which the tester will mix in a solution. A test panel sits in the solution and gives results in 20 minutes. A rapid HIV test will be able to detect an autoimmune response to HIV about 6-8 weeks after infection. If a rapid test is positive, your tester or doctor will do a standard (4th generation) blood test to confirm that you are HIV positive. It is important to know that they are three types of results that can come from a rapid test: invalid, non-reactive, and reactive.
Another option that may be a good fit for you is home testing. Some drug stores sell HIV tests that can be performed at home. They take a sample from either a finger stick or the mouth. If the test does show the presence of HIV, further testing needs to be confirmed with a standard blood test by your health care provider.
No matter which test a person chooses to do, it is very important to always get your results! Testing sites, including Title X clinics, offer confidential testing. All the information is private. Only the testing provider can see the result and only with your approval will the tester be able to share the results with your primary care provider if you choose. In almost all situations, your health care provider should know about a positive HIV test so you can get the best care.
Types of HIV Test Results
An invalid result means that the test did not work properly and it will have to be repeated
A non-reactive result means that no HIV antibodies were detected. Antibodies are your body’s response to a virus or infection. This would find any exposure which happened 6 weeks prior to the test or before that. A non-reactive test means that the person is HIV-negative.
A reactive result is considered a preliminary positive and means that HIV antibodies were found. A second test, done by your health care provider, needs to be done using a blood draw to confirm the first test’s results.
If you are tested too soon after being exposed to HIV, it is possible that you can get a “false negative”. This is because it can take between 1 and 12 weeks after infection for the HIV test to become positive, depending on the type of test used and your body’s immune response to the virus. If it recommended that you have the test repeated after 3 months to make sure you are truly negative.
Where can I get tested?
You can get tested at your primary care provider’s office or a local testing center. You can find a local testing center near you on the CDC HIV testing resource site. This site has a feature where you can type in your zip code, and get the names and addresses of testing locations near you.