Do I Have an HIV Infection?

The 5 Questions You Should Ask If You Think You've Been Exposed

Man sitting at kitchen table with hands on face
Credit: Getty Images/Aleli Dezmen/Cultura

"Do I have HIV?"

It is probably the one question we are most asked from online readers, and it is generally a result of one of two things: either because the person suspects a recent exposure or that person remembers a time when he or she might have been infected.

It also tells us one other thing: that the person asking the question is likely fearful of either HIV testing ("I don't want to know") or having to deal with the consequences of testing ("I don't want other people to know").

Clearly the only way you can ever know if you have HIV is to get tested. But, at the same time, knowing the signs of HIV infection may incite you to take to action, and that's a good thing. With nearly 400,000 Americans undiagnosed for HIV, the need has never been to greater time to discuss the signs of HIV and how to act if you suspect you've been infected.

In order to assess whether you have HIV, it's important to identify if you have ever engaged in any activity in which you could have potentially been exposed. Ask yourself:

  • Have you ever not used condoms?
  • Have you ever injected drugs?
  • Have you ever had a condom burst or slip off?
  • Have you had sex with someone you didn't know or just met?
  • Have you had multiple sex partners? 

If you answered 'yes' to any of these questions, then there is a chance you may have been exposed to HIV. While that doesn't mean you have HIV, it does suggest that you start asking yourself a few key questions:

1. Are any of the activities I engaged in risky?

Start by knowing what types of activities are most likely to result in an HIV infection.

2. Can I tell if someone I've been with has HIV?

The bottom line is you can't, but there definitely are people who are at higher risk of transmitting HIV than others.

3. What are the signs of a recent infection?

Within a week or two of exposure, around 40% will exhibit signs of a recent infection called acute seroconversion.

4. What are the signs I've been exposed to HIV in the past?

There are a number of opportunistic illnesses that can develop when you leave HIV untreated.

5. What are the chances I have AIDS?

Start by understanding what AIDS is and what type of symptoms can occur at different stages of the disease.

Irrespective of whether the signs are there are not, the most important thing you can do for yourself and your partner is to get an HIV test. You can get tested by your family doctor, at a free and anonymous testing site, or by purchasing an in-home test kit.

If you HIV negative, you can at least move forward with the knowledge of how to remain negative. If you are positive, you can take steps to ensure that  you remain healthy for many years by taking HIV therapy, which is not only incredibly effective but have far fewer side effects than ever before.

So do yourself a favor. Get tested today and get the peace of mind you are looking for.

Edited by James Myhre and Dennis Sifris, M.D.

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