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HIV and AIDS

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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 his or her nose.

HIV Tests

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.

Here's a look at available HIV tests: 

Standard tests. These blood tests check for HIV antibodies. Your body makes antibodies in response to the HIV infection. These tests can't detect HIV in the blood soon after infection because it takes time for your body to make these antibodies. It generally takes two to 8 weeks for your body to produce antibodies, but in some cases it can take up to six months.

In standard tests, a small sample of your blood is drawn and sent to a lab for testing. Some of the standard tests use urine or fluids that are collected from the mouth to screen for antibodies.

Rapid antibody tests. Most of these are blood tests for HIV antibodies. Some can detect antibodies in saliva. Results are available in under 30 minutes and are as accurate as standard tests. 

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