September 26, 2017
HIV+ HIV- blood in a test tube

Should You Be Tested for HIV?

by Berkeley Wellness  |  

If you answer yes to any of the following questions, you should seek counseling and testing for HIV (if you are not already taking daily medication to prevent HIV, known as PrEP.)

  • Have you had condomless sex—anal or vaginal—with someone who may have HIV?
  • Are you a man who has had sex with other men?
  • Have you shared needles, syringes, or other tools used for injecting drugs?
  • Have you had another sexually transmitted disease?
  • Have you had condomless sex with someone who would answer yes to any of the above questions?

In addition, if you have had sex with someone and you didn’t know his or her past behavior, or you have had many sex partners, you should consider testing.

Since 1985 the risk of contracting an infection from transfusions or blood products has been minimized thanks to the rigorous screening of donated blood (the risk is now about 1 in 2 million transfusions).

If you have any doubts about what to do, get counseling. If you are at risk and decide not to be tested, you should assume that you might be infected and take precautions to prevent transmitting the virus to others. If you continue to engage in risk behaviors, you should be tested at least once a year, or more frequently if you are a gay or bisexual man.

Where to go for testing

HIV testing is conducted confidentially and, in some cases, anonymously (though this has become increasingly rare). You can ask your healthcare provider for an HIV test, but they are also offered at medical clinics, substance abuse programs, community health centers, and hospitals. You can find a testing sitenear you by calling 1-800-CDC-INFO (232-4636); visiting gettested.cdc.gov; or
texting your ZIP code to KNOW IT (566948).

Ask about the cost of the test, which may be free or available or a nominal fee (unless it’s done in a private doctor’s office, which significantly increases the cost).

If you take an anonymous test, you will be the only one who knows the results. If you take a confidential test, the results will become part of your medical record but are still protected by federal and state privacy laws. This means that your test results will be shared with your health care provider and your insurance company, but otherwise can't be released without your permission.

After the test, you should receive counseling. If you test positive, you’ll need to know what your medical options are, how to prevent HIV transmission to others, and what the psychological, financial, and social repercussions may be.

Today, there are excellent treatments for HIV, and most people can expect to have a near-normal or normal lifespan. Also, effective HIV treatment—in addition to improving or protecting the health of people with HIV—can eliminate the risk of sexual transmission of HIV to others.

If you test negative, you can find out more about how to stay uninfected. For example, people who do not have HIV can drastically reduce their risk of HIV infection, even if they do not use condoms, if they take a daily pill called PrEP. It’s also possible to switch to lower-risk sexual behaviors, such as oral sex.

Home tests for HIV

If you wish, you can take a home test to find out if you have HIV. The FDA has approved two home HIV tests, available online and at pharmacies: the Home Access HIV-1 Test System and the OraQuick In-home HIV test. Both test for antibodies to HIV.

The Home Access HIV-1 Test System involves pricking your finger to collect a blood sample, sending the sample to a licensed laboratory, and calling for results. The test is anonymous. If the result is positive, a follow-up test is performed right away. The manufacturer provides confidential counseling and referral to treatment.

The OraQuick In-Home HIV Test involves swabbing your mouth for an oral fluid sample and using the included kit to test it. Results are available in 20 minutes. If you test positive, you will need to get a follow-up test. (The manufacturer provides referrals to follow-up testing sites and confidential counseling.)

Testing and face-to-face counseling by a trained health care professional may be preferable to the home test, so if you’re considering being tested, we recommend you talk to your doctor or visit gettested.cdc.gov to find free and confidential testing near you. But the home test is a decent alternative, provided the process helps educate people about HIV/AIDS and leads to medical treatment, if they need it.

For more information, visit TheBody.com, a comprehensive online HIV/AIDS resource published by the same parent company as Berkeley Wellness.