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Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) Test

Why It Is Done

A test for the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is done to:

  • Detect an HIV infection.
  • Screen blood, blood products, and organ donors to prevent the spread of HIV.
  • Screen pregnant women for HIV infection. Pregnant women who are infected with HIV and receive treatment are less likely to pass the infection on to their babies than are women who do not receive treatment.
  • Find out if a baby born to an HIV-positive woman also is infected with HIV. A PCR test is often done in this case because the baby may get antibodies against HIV from the mother and yet not be infected.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend HIV screening as part of routine blood testing.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends HIV testing:1

  • As part of regular medical care for people 15 to 65 years old.
  • For all pregnant women.
  • For people younger than 15 and older than 65 if they have a high risk for HIV, such as for people who engage in high-risk behavior.

You and your doctor can decide if testing is right for you.

This test is not done to determine if a person has AIDS. A diagnosis of AIDS means a person is HIV-positive and other problems are present.

How To Prepare

You do not need to do anything before you have this test.

A test for HIV infection can't be done without your consent. Most doctors offer counseling before and after the test to discuss:

  • How the test is done, what the results mean, and any other tests that may be done.
  • How the diagnosis of an HIV infection may affect your social, emotional, professional, and financial outlooks.
  • The benefits of early diagnosis and treatment.

Before the test, it is important to tell your doctor how and where to contact you when your test results are ready. If your doctor has not contacted you within 1 to 2 weeks of your test, call and ask for your results.

How It Is Done

The health professional drawing blood will:

  • Wrap an elastic band around your upper arm to stop the flow of blood. This makes the veins below the band larger so it is easier to put a needle into the vein.
  • Clean the needle site with alcohol.
  • Put the needle into the vein. More than one needle stick may be needed.
  • Attach a tube to the needle to fill it with blood.
  • Remove the band from your arm when enough blood is collected.
  • Apply a gauze pad or cotton ball over the needle site as the needle is removed.
  • Apply pressure to the site and then a bandage.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: November 06, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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