How long after a possible exposure should I be tested for HIV?
It takes the human body three to six months to “seroconvert,” or recognize the HIV virus in such a way that it would appear positive in a blood test. The amount of time between transmission and seroconversion is called the “window period.” For the most accurate results, it is best to wait until the three-to-six month window period has passed to get tested.
How does the HIV test work?
There are three different kinds of HIV test:
1. The HIV Antibody Test
This is the most traditional HIV test. It is performed by drawing blood or through “Orasure,” a painless method that takes an oral sample with a special cotton pad.
2. Oraquick, or the “Rapid Test”
Provides results within 20 minutes, as well as same day counseling. May require a second test to confirm.
3. Viral Load Test
People who already know they are HIV positive take this test later in the continuum of the virus to find out how much of the virus is in their bloodstream.
Are my results private?
Yes. All HIV test results are confidential. You have the option to take an “anonymous test” or a “confidential test.” An anonymous test means your name is not attached to your test, so you are the only one who knows your results. A confidential test is also private, but your health care provider has access to the results and therefore it will appear in your medical file.
What do the test results mean?
If You Are Positive…
If you test “Positive,” it means that you are infected with HIV. A positive diagnosis also means that you can spread the virus to others if do not take precautions. You will not die from HIV, but you should seek medical attention immediately.
If You Are Negative…
If you test “Negative,” it means that you were not carrying HIV antibodies at the time of the test. However, it does not necessarily mean that you are not infected with HIV. If you took the test during the “window period”-the period of time between transmission and your body’s recognition of the virus-it might just be too early for a test to detect HIV in your bloodstream. For the most accurate results, wait three to six months after suspected transmission to get tested. If you do test negative, just remember that you can still become infected in the future and you must remain careful.
If my test comes back HIV Positive, does that mean that I will die?
No. You can live a full, healthy life with HIV if you seek medical help, take good care of yourself, and stick to a treatment plan.
What do I do if I learn that I am positive?
First, take a deep breath. A positive HIV diagnosis does not mean you are dying. But you should seek medical help as soon as possible. Even if you feel fine, it’s important to gather information and connect with an HIV professional so you can make informed decisions for your future. Also, be sure to connect with others. Learning that you are HIV positive can be an isolating experience, but you are not alone. Find an HIV/AIDS community in your area where counseling and support groups are available. Think it through before you decide who you want to tell about your status, and make sure you feel comfortable with your choices. Inform your current and previous partners so they can get tested, too.
Learn more about what to do if you are positive