Routine HIV testing recommended for everyone age 13 to 64
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 1 million people have HIV in the United States. Of those, more than 160,000 people aren’t aware they have the virus. Those individuals are responsible for the transmission of close to 40% of new HIV infections.
HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus, weakens the body’s ability to fight disease.
Should I get tested for HIV?
HIV testing is one way to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS.
HIV treatment reduces the amount of virus in the blood and is most effective when you begin close to the time of diagnosis. Low virus levels keep you from developing HIV-related symptoms, such as weight loss or chronic infection. Take your HIV medicines as prescribed to keep the virus in your body at undetectable levels. The CDC suggests there is almost no risk of passing the virus to your partners when the virus is undetected.
Who should get tested for HIV?
The CDC recommends one-time testing for anyone between the ages of 13 and 64 to maintain good health. But if you fall into a higher-risk category, such as men who have had sex with another man, the CDC recommends yearly testing.
You are also considered at higher risk if you’ve:
- Had intercourse (anal or vaginal) with an HIV-positive partner
- Had more than one sex partner since your last HIV test
- Shared needles or other drug-injection equipment with others
- Traded sex for money or drugs
- Been diagnosed with or treated for a sexually transmitted infection
- Received a diagnosis of or treatment for hepatitis or tuberculosis
- Had sex with someone who meets the high-risk criteria outlined above
What types of HIV tests are available?
There are three types of tests doctors use to diagnose HIV:
Nucleic acid test (NAT)
This test looks for the virus in the blood. Doctors typically don’t use it for routine screening unless a person had a high-risk exposure or has early HIV infection symptoms. The NAT can detect HIV between 10 and 33 days after exposure.
Your provider typically uses the antigen/antibody test to look for HIV antibodies and antigens. Your immune system produces antibodies when exposed to viruses such as HIV. An antigen is a substance that activates your immune system to develop antibodies. The HIV antigen is known as p24.
Your provider may perform an HIV blood test in two ways:
- Blood draw: This method detects HIV infection between 18 and 45 days after exposure.
- Finger prick: This test may not detect HIV for up to 90 days after exposure.
HIV antibody test
Most self-tests are antibody tests. They use blood from a finger prick or oral fluid to detect HIV from 23 to 90 days after infection.
How accurate is testing for HIV?
HIV tests are very accurate. If you perform a self-test or your doctor administers a rapid test, the CDC recommends you receive a follow-up test to confirm the finding. Even laboratories usually conduct follow-up testing on the same blood sample to confirm the diagnosis.
If your test is negative and it’s been three months or more since a possible exposure, you can feel confident you don’t have HIV.
Where can I receive an HIV test?
Hospitals, clinics and community service organizations provide HIV testing, sometimes for free. If you have a primary care provider, start by reaching out to him or her. You can also do a web search for HIV testing to find a testing location near you.
You can buy self-tests at a pharmacy or online. Rapid at-home self-tests can produce results within 20 minutes.
If you are at higher risk for HIV, talk with your primary care provider about getting tested. Your doctor may also prescribe a pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) medication to help prevent you from contracting the virus.