December 01, 2023

HIV Testing: Everything You Need to Know

Whether you are sexually active or just want to stay informed, being aware of your HIV status is an important step in taking charge of your sexual health.

At the end of 2021, an estimated 1.2 million people in the United States were living with HIV. Of those people, only about 87% knew they had HIV ¹. Because HIV infections can have mild or no symptoms, the only way to know your status is to get tested.

What is HIV?

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a virus that attacks the immune system, making it harder for the body to fight off infections and diseases. If left untreated, HIV can lead to Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS), a condition in which the immune system is severely damaged, making the person vulnerable to illnesses and infections.

While there is no cure, this condition can be managed with medication. Early detection of HIV is critical for effective management and treatment.

When to Get Tested

The timing of your HIV test can greatly impact the accuracy of the results, and some people should be tested more frequently than others. It is important to note that because the initial screening test is very sensitive, initial diagnosis can be a multi-step process. All positive results will need to be confirmed with additional testing.

Routine Testing
Everyone should get tested for HIV at least once in their lifetime, and more often if engaging in risky behaviors ². High-risk groups, such as men who have sex with men, injection drug users, and those with multiple sexual partners, should get tested more frequently.

After Potential Exposure
If you have had unprotected sex, shared needles, or been in contact with blood or bodily fluids of someone with HIV, you should get tested as soon as possible. Keep in mind that it can take a few weeks for the virus to show up in your system, so you may need to retest after a certain period.

During Pregnancy
Pregnant individuals should be tested for HIV as part of their prenatal care. If an expectant mother is HIV-positive, appropriate interventions can prevent transmission to the baby.

The Testing Process

Getting an HIV test is a straightforward process. Here’s what you can expect:

Pre-Test Counseling
Before the test, a healthcare provider will provide information about HIV, answer any questions you may have, and assess your risk factors. This step is important for ensuring you are well-informed and comfortable with the process.

Sample Collection
Depending on the type of test, a blood sample, oral swab, or finger stick may be used to collect a specimen. Many healthcare providers will order a blood draw for this test. Your HNL Lab Medicine phlebotomist will ensure that the sample is properly labeled and sent for analysis. You can check out our locations here.

Post-Test Counseling
After the test, you will receive the results. A negative result doesn’t necessarily mean that you don’t have HIV. That’s because of the window period- the time between HIV exposure and when a test can detect HIV in your body ³. A negative result means that the test did not detect HIV antibodies or the virus itself at the time of testing. If you have engaged in risky behavior recently, you should retest after the recommended window period.

A positive result indicates the presence of HIV antibodies or the virus. If the result is positive, you will need additional tests to confirm the diagnosis and discuss treatment options.It’s important to remember that a positive result is not a death sentence. With early detection and proper medical care, people living with HIV can lead long and healthy lives.

For more information

HIV testing is a vital step in taking control of your sexual health. By understanding HIV, when to get tested, and what the results mean, you can make informed decisions about your health and well-being.

Remember that early detection and proper medical care can make a significant difference in managing HIV. If you have any concerns or questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to a healthcare provider. You can also find more information on the CDC’s website. Your health is worth it, and being informed is the first step towards a healthier future.

¹ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023, May 22). Basic statistics. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
² Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023, April 19). HIV testing. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
³ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023, April 04). HIV testing essentials. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.