HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus, is the virus that causes AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome). HIV weakens a person's immune system reducing their ability to fight infections and cancers. A person can get HIV by coming into contact with an infected person's body fluids (blood, semen, vaginal fluids, breast milk), and HIV can be spread through:
Vaginal, oral, or anal sex
Sharing unclean needles to take drugs
Pregnancy (from an infected mother to baby)
Blood transfusions (since 1985, blood donations have been routinely tested for HIV, so infection from blood transfusions is rare)
You cannot get HIV from:
Did You Know?
Under the Affordable Care Act, many health insurance plans will cover prenatal services, including screening tests and breastfeeding support, at no cost to you. Learn more.
Sharing cups, utensils, telephones, or other personal items
How Can I Know If I Have HIV?
You can get a simple blood test to see if you have been infected with HIV. The test looks for HIV antibodies in your blood. These antibodies are substances that the body makes in response to the HIV infection. Many of these tests aren't accurate immediately after infection since it takes time for your body to make these antibodies, generally from two to 12 weeks, but in some cases it can take up to six months.
A small sample of your blood is drawn and sent to a lab for testing. If the first test shows signs of HIV (preliminary test), the sample will be tested again (confirmatory test). HIV infection is only confirmed after the sample of blood has been tested at least two times.
Why Should Pregnant Women Be Tested for HIV?
Doctors recommend all pregnant women get tested for HIV. Medications are available to prevent the spread of the virus to your unborn baby. In addition, steps can be taken during delivery to prevent spreading the infection. Some studies show a woman can further reduce the risk of spreading the virus to her baby by having a cesarean section before her water breaks. Moreover, your health care provider can take steps to help you stay healthy longer.
Is HIV Testing Required?
No. HIV testing is voluntary. Anyone is free to decline testing. Your decision to not get tested, or the test result itself, will not prevent you from getting health care during pregnancy.
Can I Change My Mind About HIV Testing?
Yes. If after giving the blood sample you decide against testing, inform the attending nurse or doctor. Patients who are not hospitalized (outpatients) can withdraw their consent up until they leave the facility. Hospital patients (inpatients) can withdraw their consent up until one hour after the blood sample has been drawn.
What Do the HIV Test Results Mean?
A confirmed, positive test result means you have been infected with HIV. Being infected with HIV does not necessarily mean that you have AIDS. It can take many years for people with HIV to develop AIDS.
A negative test result means that no signs of HIV infection were found in your blood. A negative test does not always mean that you do not have HIV. Signs of HIV may not show up in the blood for several months after infection. For this reason, you should be tested again if you could have been exposed to HIV or are at risk for HIV infection.