How Do I Get Tested For HIV/AIDS?

CANGE, HAITI - MARCH 24: Blood tests wait to be inspected at the lab of Zanmi Lasante Hospital March 24, 2005 in Cange, Haiti. Many HIV positive patients come to be hospitalized here, but the majority of HIV infected people will stay at home in their final stage of life and will die there as most hospitals in the country can not take them. (Photo by Shaul Schwarz/Getty Images). Shaul Schwarz/Getty Images

In recent years, there have been a growing number of options for HIV testing. There are rapid tests for people who can't wait for a test result. There are oral tests for those who can't stand the site of blood. There are even home tests for people who don't want to visit a doctor's office unless and until they have to!

All of these testing options are good ones, although some are different than others.

In addition, one thing that's important to understand is the difference between anonymous and confidential testing. Since HIV is a notifiable disease, many people are concerned about their test information being accessed by someone inappropriate. Although that's highly unlikely, anonymous HIV testing may offer some people additional peace of mind.

Understanding the Many Types of HIV Tests

  • Standard Blood Tests: These blood tests can take up to 1-2 weeks to get results. Because of the potential for a false positive test, any positive blood test is always repeated and then rechecked by a different, confirmatory, test before a diagnosis is given. For an explanation of the different types of blood tests please click here
  • Rapid Testing: Rapid test results are available in 20 minutes, as opposed to 1-2 weeks for a more traditional blood test. These tests may not be available in all locations, and, just like with standard blood tests, a positive rapid test must be confirmed by another, more specific, test before a diagnosis is given.
  • Oral Testing: There are two FDA approved tests that use oral fluids instead of blood. The fluids are evaluated using an EIA and, if necessary, positive results are confirmed with a Western Blot.
  • Home Testing: There is currently only one FDA approved home test. The Home Access kit can be found at most drug stores, and using the kit a blood sample is sent to a national laboratory. People must call in to receive their results, and counseling is available both before taking the test and before getting a result. Other home tests are not recommended┬ásince their accuracy has not been established by the FDA.

    Finding HIV Testing

    The CDC has created a web tool to help you find an test site near you. You can also call your local health department to find testing locations, and home testing kits are available online as well as at many drugstores.

    If You Think You May Have Been Exposed to HIV

    If you think you may have been exposed to HIV, and the exposure happened regularly, you may need a special type of HIV test designed to detect recent infections. This type of test is not always available, so talk to your doctor about what you need to do to get tested. In addition, if the exposure was very recent, you should talk to your doctor about post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP). This type of treatment uses standard HIV medications and may reduce the risk of infection when taken shortly after exposure to HIV. It works best when started less than 72 hours after the exposure.


    Guidelines on Post-Exposure Prophylaxis for HIV and the Use of Co-Trimoxazole Prophylaxis for HIV-Related Infections Among Adults, Adolescents and Children: Recommendations for a Public Health Approach: December 2014 supplement to the 2013 consolidated guidelines on the use of antiretroviral drugs for treating and preventing HIV infection. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2014 Dec.

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