An HIV test is a test that shows if you have been infected with HIV. When a person is infected with HIV, his or her immune system tries to fight the virus by creating antibodies. Antibodies are one of the body’s tools for fighting infections. An HIV test looks for the presence of HIV antibodies. If HIV antibodies are present, the person is HIV-infected. The most common test for HIV is done using a vial of blood. However, a rapid test can be done using only a finger stick sample of blood. The rapid test takes only 20 minutes and is used as a screening tool for HIV. If the rapid test comes back positive, a person needs to take another blood test to confirm the results. (more)
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that you should consider being tested if:
A window period is the time between when a person is infected and a positive test result occurs. Generally it takes one to three months (and possibly up to six months) following infection before antibodies to the virus are at a level in the blood to be detected. Because the HIV test is based on the presence of antibodies, the HIV test may be negative in an infected person during the window period. If you have engaged in behaviors that may have exposed you to HIV, but have tested negative, your healthcare provider may ask you to repeat the test later after the window period is over, or they may order a viral load, which can identify the virus in a newly infected person.
HIV tests are either anonymous or confidential. Both anonymous and confidential testing sites maintain the highest degree of privacy.
Anonymous testing is when you choose to get tested at a funded testing site. When you have the test done at an anonymous site, you are given a private code number. No one asks your name. You are the only one who can tell anyone else your result. If you are HIV positive and had an anonymous test, it is important to seek medical care immediately.
Confidential testing means you give the testing site your name. Your record will be kept secret from everybody except medical personnel. You should ask who will know the result and how it will be stored. If you have your HIV antibody test done confidentially, you can sign a release form to have your test result sent to your doctor. Confidential test results may be put in your medical record. Like all your medical information, your HIV test results cannot be given to anyone without your written permission. If you have the test done in your healthcare provider’s office, hospital, clinic, or any other facility, your test results are confidential.
HIV tests are covered by most health insurances. In addition, many testing sites offer no or low cost testing. Please check with the site for specific cost information.