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.
- 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 a positive ELISA test is confirmed by a positive Western blot assay or other test.
Rapid antibody tests are available that give results right away. One rapid blood test can detect both HIV antibodies and antigens, which allows an HIV infection to be found earlier than was possible in the past. Positive results of a rapid test may need to be confirmed by the ELISA or Western blot test.
Until you know the results of your test:
Home test kits for HIV
A home test kit for HIV (called OraQuick) has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). For the test, you rub your gums with a swab supplied by the kit. Then you place the swab into a vial of liquid. The test strip on the swab indicates if you have HIV or not.
Another type of test kit for HIV is a home blood test kit. This type of kit provides instructions and materials for collecting a small blood sample by sticking your finger with a lancet. The blood is placed onto a special card that is then sent to a lab for analysis. You get the results over the phone using an anonymous code number. Counseling is also available over the phone for people who use the test kit.
If the results from a home test kit show that you have an HIV infection, talk with a doctor.
Testing positive for HIV
If you test positive, your doctor will complete a medical history and physical exam.
He or she may order several lab tests to check your overall health, including:
- A complete blood count (CBC), to identify the numbers and types of cells in your blood.
- A chemistry screen, to measure the blood levels of certain substances (such as electrolytes and glucose) and to see how well your liver and kidneys are working.
Other tests may be done to check for current or past infections that may become worse because of HIV. You may be tested for:
When you have HIV, two tests are done regularly to see how much of the virus is in your blood (viral load) and how the virus is affecting your immune system:
- CD4+ cell counts provide information about the health of your immune system.
- Viral load measures the amount of HIV in your blood.
The results of these tests may help you make decisions about starting treatment or switching to new medicines if the ones you are taking aren't helping.
Testing for drug resistance
HIV often changes or mutates in the body. Sometimes these changes make the virus resistant to certain medicines. Then the medicine no longer works.
Medical experts recommend testing the blood of everyone diagnosed with HIV to look for this drug resistance.1 This information helps your doctor know what medicines to use.
You also may be tested for drug resistance when:
- You are ready to begin treatment.
- You've been having treatment and your viral load numbers stop going down.
- You've been having treatment and your viral load numbers become detectable after not being detectable.
How is AIDS diagnosed?
AIDS is the last and most severe stage of HIV infection. It is diagnosed if the results of your test show that you have: