HIV and AIDS
Who Can Get HIV?
Anyone can get HIV if they engage in certain activities. You may have a higher risk of getting HIV if you:
- Have unprotected sex. This means vaginal or anal intercourse without a condom or oral sex without a latex barrier with a person infected with HIV.
- Share needles to inject drugs or steroids with an infected person. The disease can also be transmitted by dirty needles used to make a tattoo or in body piercing.
- Receive a blood transfusion from an infected person. This is very unlikely in the U.S. and Western Europe, where all blood is tested for HIV infection.
- Are born to a mother with HIV infection. A baby can also get HIV from the breast milk of an infected woman.
If you fall into any of the categories above, you should consider being tested for HIV.
Health care workers are at risk on the job and should take special precautions. Some health care workers have become infected after being stuck with needles containing HIV-infected blood or less frequently, after infected blood comes into contact with an open cut or through splashes into the worker's eyes or inside their nose.
The only way to know if you have HIV is to take an HIV test. Most tests looks for signs of HIV in your blood. A small sample of blood is taken from your arm. The blood is sent to a lab and tested for HIV.
Clinics that do HIV tests keep your test results secret. Some clinics even perform HIV tests without ever taking your name (anonymous testing). You must go back to the clinic to get your results. A positive test means that you have HIV. A negative test means that no signs of HIV were found in your blood.
Before taking an HIV test:
- Ask the clinic what privacy rules it follows.
- Think about how knowing you have HIV would change your life.
- Ask your doctor or nurse any questions you have about HIV, AIDS, or the HIV test.
Home HIV test kits are sold online or at your local drugstore. The FDA has approved the Home Access HIV-1 Test System. To use this home test, prick a finger with a special needle and put a few drops of blood on a collection card. Then you mail the card to a lab. In about a week, you call a toll-free number to get the results. The whole process is anonymous because you use just the personal identification number in your kit when calling in for results.
The OraQuick In-Home HIV Test is also approved by the FDA. This test can detect antibodies of the virus from a saliva sample. It can provide results without a laboratory in 20 minutes. A positive result doesn't mean a definite infection with HIV, but rather that additional testing should be done in a medical setting. Also, a negative result doesn't mean that you are definitely not infected with HIV, particularly when exposure may have been within the previous three months.
One rapid HIV test, done in a doctor's office, can show HIV antigens as well as antibodies. Antigens appear sooner -- 2 to 4 weeks after being infected -- than antibodies. So, this test can diagnose HIV more quickly after a person is exposed.