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HIV Testing: What You Need to Know

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What About Home HIV Tests?

You can buy a couple of different home HIV antibody tests now. They cost about $40. With the Home Access test, you prick your finger and then send a drop of blood off for testing. Like other antibody tests, it's more than 99% accurate. The results take 1 to 7 days. OraQuick is a mouth swab that gives you results in 20 minutes. It's about 92% accurate.

"If you're anxious about getting tested in a medical setting, the home tests are a good option," says John G. Bartlett, MD, former director of the Johns Hopkins AIDS Service. You will still want to follow up a home test with a test at your doctor's office or a clinic.

How Often Should You Get Tested?

Everyone needs one HIV test, but who needs testing more often?

  • Adults who are sexually active and not in a monogamous relationship should get tested once a year.
  • Pregnant women need to be tested for HIV early in their pregnancy.
  • People who are at increased risk need testing at least once a year -- and maybe 2-4 times a year. Check with your doctor. People at increased risk include men who have sex with men, and people who have unprotected sex, share needles, get paid for sex, or have other STDs.

If you think you were recently exposed to HIV -- you had unsafe sex, or the condom broke -- it may be too soon for any test to have an accurate result.

But you still need to see a doctor right away. One treatment -- PEP, or post-exposure prophylaxis -- can help prevent the infection. Every minute counts -- you need to start PEP within 72 hours for it to work.

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Reviewed on December 12, 2013

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