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HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) Infection - Exams and Tests

Early detection

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all people should get tested for HIV as part of their regular medical care.

The United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends HIV testing:5

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  • 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.

Fear of being tested

Some people are afraid to be tested for HIV. But if there is any chance you could be infected, it is very important to find out. HIV can be treated. Getting early treatment can slow down the virus and help you stay healthy. And you need to know if you are infected so you can prevent spreading the infection to other people.

Your doctor may recommend counseling before and after HIV testing. It is usually available at the hospital or clinic where you will be tested. This will give you an opportunity to:

  • Discuss your fears about being tested.
  • Learn how to reduce your risk of becoming infected if your test is negative.
  • Learn how to keep from spreading HIV to others if your test is positive.
  • Think about personal issues, such as how having HIV will affect you socially, emotionally, professionally, and financially.
  • Learn what you need to do to stay healthy as long as possible.

Testing positive for HIV will probably make you anxious and afraid about your future. Denial, fear, and depression are common reactions.

Don't be afraid to ask for the emotional support you need. If your family and friends aren't able to provide you with support, a professional counselor can help.

The good news is that people being treated for HIV are living longer than ever before with the help of medicines that can often prevent AIDS from developing. Your doctor can help you understand your condition and how best to treat it.

Blood tests for HIV

HIV is diagnosed when antibodies to HIV are found in the blood. The two main blood tests are:

HIV is diagnosed only after two or more positive ELISA tests are confirmed by one positive Western blot assay. These tests usually can be done on the same blood sample.

ELISA test results usually come back in 2 to 4 days. Results of the Western blot take 1 to 2 weeks. Rapid antibody tests are available that give results right away. But positive results of the rapid test need to be confirmed by the ELISA or Western blot test.

Until you know the results of your test:

  • Avoid sexual contact with others. If you do have sex, practice safer sex.
  • Do not share needles, syringes, cookers, cotton, cocaine spoons, or eyedroppers.
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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: May 16, 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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