If you're worried that you might have been exposed to human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) -- the virus that causes AIDS -- it's important to get tested as soon as possible. Although the prospect of being diagnosed with the disease can be scary, today you can live a long and full life with HIV, especially if you start treatment early. Knowing you are infected can also help you take precautions so that you don't pass the virus to other people.
Several different tests are used to diagnose HIV infection. Other tests are used to select and monitor treatments in people who are living with HIV. This article covers both types of HIV tests.
Antiretroviral therapy -- or ART -- revolutionized HIV treatment in the past few decades. And newer improvements, like one-pill-a-day drugs, are making life with HIV easier and safer.
"HIV really is a chronic disease now," says Brad Hare, MD, medical director of the HIV/AIDS Division at San Francisco General Hospital. "It's like diabetes or high blood pressure." As long as you manage it well, you should expect a long, healthy life.
You’ve had sex with someone who has a history of any of the above -- or with someone whose sexual history you don’t know.
There are several types of tests that screen blood (and sometimes saliva) to see if you are infected with HIV.
Newer tests can detect the presence of HIV antigen, a protein, up to 20 days earlier than standard tests. This helps prevent spread of the virus to others and means an earlier start for treatment. It is done with a pinprick to the finger.
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.