An estimated 1.2 million people in the United States have HIV, including about 161,800 people who are unaware of their status. Nearly 40% of new HIV infections are transmitted by people who do not know they have the virus. For people with undiagnosed HIV, an HIV test is the first step in maintaining a healthy life and preventing HIV transmission.
CDC also recommends that everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 should go for HIV screening at least once as part of routine health care.
What Is An HIV Test And Why Is It Important?
HIV testing, also called HIV screening, is the only way to know if you have the virus.
Several types of tests check your blood or other body fluids to see whether you are infected. Most can’t spot HIV right away, because it takes time for your body to make antibodies or for enough of the virus to grow inside you.
If you have the virus, finding out quickly means you can start treatment right away so you can feel better and live a long, full life.
Pregnant women should get tested because early treatment means you probably won’t pass it to your baby.
As early as two weeks after exposure, people may develop flu-like symptoms such as a sore throat, rash, fever, or chills. During this stage, the virus multiplies rapidly and is most contagious. These symptoms will last for a few weeks.
After the first stage of infection, HIV then moves into a latency stage when there are no symptoms. More severe symptoms of HIV-caused infections and cancers will likely appear years later.
Types of HIV Tests
- Antibody Screening Tests
These tests check for the protein that your body makes within 2 to 8 weeks of an HIV infection. These are also called immunoassay or ELISA tests. These are generally very accurate.
Rapid versions of these blood and oral fluid tests can give results in 30 minutes or less, but they may give negative results even when you are infected. This is called a false negative.
- Antigen Combination Tests
The CDC recommends these blood tests. They can detect HIV earlier than antibody screening tests. They check for HIV antigen, a protein called p24 that’s part of the virus and shows up 2 to 4 weeks after infection. They also check for HIV antibodies.
- Nucleic Acid Test (NAT)
This is also known as an RNA test. It looks for the virus itself and can diagnose HIV about 10 days after you have been exposed.
It is expensive, so it is usually not the first choice. But if you are at high risk and you have flu-like symptoms, your doctor may want to use it.
- In-Home Test Kits
Kits that test your blood or oral fluids are available in the U.S. You can buy them at a local store or online. Pick one that is FDA-approved.
Home tests are slightly less sensitive than in-person lab tests.
HIV Test Recommendations and Requirements
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends routine HIV screening in health-care settings for all adults. As per the CDC, people who may benefit from an annual HIV screening include:
- sexually active gay or bisexual men
- people who have had sex with an HIV-positive partner
- people who have had more than one partner since their last HIV test
- those who have shared needles or works to inject drugs
- people who have exchanged sex for drugs or money
- individuals who have another sexually transmitted disease, hepatitis, or tuberculosis
- those who have had sex with someone who has participated in any of the above activities or with someone with an unknown sexual history
HIV Test Results
Positive HIV Test Result
A positive HIV test result means there are traces of HIV in your body. If you had a rapid test, get a standard lab test to confirm it. If you had a lab test, more detailed tests of your blood can help confirm your diagnosis:
- Western blot or indirect immunoassay
- Antibody differentiation, between HIV-1 and HIV-2
A positive HIV test does not mean you have AIDS, the most advanced stage of the disease. HIV treatment can keep you from getting AIDS, so talk to your doctor right away about starting medications called antiretroviral therapy (ART).
Negative HIV Test Results
If your HIV test result is negative, you can take steps to protect yourself from HIV. They include practicing safe sex and taking a medicine called pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).
Even if your test is negative, your partner can still have the virus. Talk with them about getting tested.
Here are a few things to know about HIV and HIV screening to overcome the fears:
- Know your HIV status not just for your peace of mind. If your HIV test is negative, then accessing an HIV test for the first time will help remove unfounded fears about it. It is normal to be concerned, but don’t let your fears paralyze you from knowing your HIV status.
- HIV is not a death sentence. Due to antiretroviral treatment, HIV has become a lifetime condition that can be managed, similar to diabetes. Most HIV-related deaths are due to late diagnosis. This means that the real death sentence is NOT knowing your HIV status.
- An HIV test is confidential. It means that the result of the test is only known to you and your doctor.
- HIV screening facilities and other HIV facilities need to comply with human rights-informed standards on HIV prevention, treatment, and care. This means that efforts should be done by HIV facilities to make their sites community-friendly: gay and bisexual men and trans women are not stigmatized or given inferior services; confidentiality rules are applied, and operation hours are adjusted to reach out to communities.
Tags: HIV symptoms, HIV test, Types of hiv tests