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HIV & AIDS Health Center

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HIV and AIDS

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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 or saliva immediately 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. Other 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.

Antibody/antigen tests. These tests are recommended by the CDC and can detect HIV up to 20 days earlier than standard tests. They check for HIV antigen, a part of the virus that shows up 2-4 weeks after infection. These tests can also detect HIV antibodies. A positive result for the antigen allows treatment to begin earlier and the patient to avoid infecting others. These are blood tests only.

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