Testing and Prevention
Here are good reasons for you to get an HIV test:
Finding out early can help you live a longer, and healthier life.The earlier you know, the more you can do. Current treatments are more powerful and can help you and others.
It’s easy. It’s free, fast, anonymous and confidential. Many clinics and testing locations in your area offer free HIV tests.
How can testing help me?
When you and your partner know each other’s HIV status, you can make informed decisions about your sexual behaviors and how to stay safe.
If you are pregnant, or planning to get pregnant, knowing your status can help protect your baby from becoming infected.
If you find out you are HIV-positive, you can start taking medicine for your HIV. Getting treated for HIV improves your health, prolongs your life, and greatly lowers your chance of spreading HIV to others.
If you know you are HIV-positive, you can take steps to protect your partners from becoming infected.
If you answer yes to any of the following questions, you should definitely get an HIV test:
Since your last HIV test, have you had sex with someone who is HIV-positive or whose status you did not know?
Have you injected drugs (including steroids, hormones, or silicone) and shared equipment (or works, such as needles and syringes) with others?
Have you exchanged sex for drugs or money?
Have you been diagnosed with or sought treatment for a sexually transmitted disease, such as syphilis?
Have you been diagnosed with or sought treatment for hepatitis or tuberculosis (TB)?
Have you had sex with someone who could answer yes to any of the above questions or someone whose history you don’t know?
If you continue having unsafe sex or sharing injection drug equipment, you should get tested at least once a year. Sexually active gay and bisexual men may benefit from more frequent testing.
What kinds of tests are available, and how do they work?
The most common HIV test is the antibody screening test (immunoassay), which tests for the antibodies that your body makes against HIV. The immunoassay may be conducted in a lab or as a rapid test at a testing site. Rapid tests produce quick results in 30 minute or less. Blood or oral fluid (not saliva) can be used.
Rapid Tests are generally very accurate, but if positive, require follow-up testing to be sure the diagnosis is right. If your first test is a rapid test, and it is positive, you will be directed to get follow-up testing.
Several tests are being used more commonly that can detect both antibodies and antigen (part of the virus itself). These tests can find recent infection earlier than tests that detect only antibodies. These antigen/antibody combination tests can find HIV as soon as 3 weeks after exposure to the virus, but they are only available for testing blood not oral fluid.
Currently there are only two home HIV tests: the Home Access HIV-1 Test System and the OraQuick In-home HIV test.
The Home Access HIV-1 Test System is a home collection kit, which involves pricking your finger to collect a blood sample, sending the sample to a licensed laboratory, and then calling in for results as early as the next business day. This test is anonymous. If the test is positive, a follow-up test is performed right away, and the results include the follow-up test. The manufacturer provides confidential counseling and referral to treatment.
The OraQuick In-Home HIV Test provides rapid results in the home. The testing procedure involves swabbing your mouth and using a kit to test it. Results are available in 20 minutes. If you test positive, you will need a follow-up test. The manufacturer provides confidential counseling and referral to follow-up testing sites.
What does a positive result mean?
Here are some important steps you can take right away to protect your health:
See a licensed health care provider, even if you don’t feel sick. There are medicines to treat HIV infection and help you stay healthy. It’s never too early to start treatment. Current guidelines recommend treatment with antiretroviral therapy (ART) for all people with HIV, including those with early infection.
Get screened for other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). STIs can cause serious health problems, even when they don’t cause symptoms. Using a condom during all sexual contact can help prevent many STIs.
Have a TB (tuberculosis) test. You may be infected with TB and not know it. Undetected TB can cause serious illness, but it can be successfully treated if caught early.
Get help if you smoke cigarettes, drink too much alcohol, or use illegal drugs (such as methamphetamine), which can weaken your immune system.
To avoid giving HIV to anyone else:
Tell your partner(s) about your HIV status before you have any type of sexual contact with them.
Use latex condoms and/or dental dams with every sexual contact. If either partner is allergic to latex, plastic (polyurethane) condoms for either the male or female can be used.
Don’t share needles, syringes, or other drug paraphernalia with anyone.
Stay on ART to keep your virus under control and greatly reduce your ability to spread HIV to others.
If your steady partner is HIV-negative, discuss whether he or she should consider pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) medications to prevent HIV.
What is PrEP?
Pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, is a way for people who do not have HIV but who are at substantial risk of getting it to prevent HIV infection by taking a pill every day.
When taken consistently, PrEP has been shown to reduce the risk of HIV infection in people who are at high risk by up to 92%.
PrEP is covered by most insurance programs, but if you do not have insurance, your health care provider can talk to you about medication assistance programs that help pay for PrEP medicine.
Who will pay for my treatment if I am HIV-positive?
If you have insurance, your insurer may pay for treatment. If you do not have insurance, or your insurer will not pay for treatment, government programs, such as Medicaid and Medicare, Ryan White Care Act treatment centers, and community health centers may be able to help if you meet their rules for eligibility. Your health care provider or local public health department can direct you to HIV treatment programs.
What is PEP?
PEP stands for post-exposure prophylaxis. It involves taking antiretroviral medicines as soon as possible, but no more than 72 hours (3 days) after you may have been exposed to HIV, to try to reduce the chance of becoming HIV-positive. These medicines keep HIV from making copies of itself and spreading through your body. Two to three drugs are usually prescribed, and they must be taken for 28 days. PEP is not always effective; it does not guarantee that someone exposed to HIV will not become infected with HIV.