An HIV test checks for the human immunodeficiency virus. HIV is the virus that can lead to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, or AIDS, if not treated. HIV attacks the body’s immune system. If you are at risk for any STDs, you should get an HIV test. Some risk factors are having sex with more than one person, using intravenous drugs and sharing needles, and lack of knowledge of your partner’s sexual history.
If you are pregnant and you may have HIV, get tested, as HIV can be passed to your child. If you have been sexually assaulted, get tested immediately.Find a CareNow® clinic near you
What is an HIV test?
HIV tests are performed on blood, oral fluid or urine. Tests done on blood usually detect HIV slightly sooner.
There are three types of HIV tests:
- Antibody tests: Most HIV tests are antibody tests. These check to see whether your body has developed antibodies to combat the HIV virus.
- Combination, or fourth-generation, test: This test checks for both antibodies and antigens. Antigens are part of the virus itself.
- Nucleic acid tests (NAT): This test checks for HIV in your blood. It checks for the virus, not the antibodies. A NAT is rarer and more expensive, and it may give inconclusive results.
Since it can take three to 12 weeks for an HIV-positive body to develop antibodies, you should be re-tested three months after your possible exposure to HIV, even if you got a negative result initially. Some healthcare providers suggest getting a NAT in combination with an antibody test. Talk to your healthcare provider to determine which test is the right one for you.
Should I get an HIV test?
If you have multiple sexual partners, think you might have HIV, use injection drugs or have certain rare conditions, you should get an HIV test. HIV symptoms are difficult to detect. Since HIV destroys the white blood cells that fight infection, some signs may seem like normal illnesses.
Symptoms of HIV may include:
- Swollen glands
- Flu-like symptoms that come and go
- Muscle and joint aches
- Sore throat
What happens after the HIV test?
If your HIV test comes back negative, you should still be re-tested after three months to be sure. If you are HIV-negative, continue to avoid HIV risk factors. Some medicines can help lower your risk if you are in a high-risk category. A negative test result for you does not mean your partner is also HIV-negative.
If you are HIV-positive, take a follow-up test to make sure the results are correct. Talk to your healthcare provider about what to do next. Being HIV-positive does not mean you have AIDS. Since AIDS is the most advanced stage of HIV, HIV can lead to AIDS if not treated.