HIV Facts

Get The Facts.

Getting an HIV test is the only way to know if you have HIV. This section answers some of the most common questions related to HIV testing, including the types of tests available, where to get one, and what to expect when you go to get tested.

One in eight people in the United States who has HIV does not know they are infected.

The Get Tested Coachella Valley coalition of community partners recommends that everyone age 12 and above get tested for HIV at least once as part of routine health care.

The following questions and answers about HIV Testing appear on the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) website

Be sure to also take our HIV Risk Quiz


If you answer yes to any of the following questions, you should definitely get an HIV test:

  • Have you had unprotected sex (sex without a condom)—anal, vaginal, or oral—with men who have sex with men or with multiple partners since your last HIV test?
  • 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 infection (STI), like syphilis?
  • Have you been diagnosed with or sought treatment for hepatitis or tuberculosis (TB)?
  • Have you had unprotected 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 (e.g., every 3 to 6 months).

You should also get tested if:

  • You have been sexually assaulted.
  • You are a woman who is planning to get pregnant or who is pregnant.
How can testing help me?

Getting tested can give you some important information and can help keep you—and others—safe. For example,

  • Knowing your HIV status can give you peace of mind—and testing is the only way you can know your HIV status for sure.
  • 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 sex partners from becoming infected.
I don’t believe I’m at high risk. Why should I get tested?

Some people who test positive for HIV were not aware of their risk. That’s why CDC recommends that providers in all health care settings make HIV testing a routine part of medical care for patients aged 13 to 64, unless the patient declines (opts out). This practice would get more people tested and help reduce the stigma around testing.Even if you have been in a long-term relationship with one person, you should find out for sure whether you or your partner has HIV. If you are both HIV-negative and you both stay faithful (monogamous) and do not have other risks for HIV infection, then you probably won’t need another HIV test unless your situation changes.

I am pregnant. Why should I get tested?

HIV testing during each pregnancy is important because, if your result is positive, treatment can improve your health and greatly lower the chance that you will pass HIV to your infant before, during, or after birth. The treatment is most effective for preventing HIV transmission to babies when started as early as possible during pregnancy. However, there are still great health benefits to beginning preventive treatment even during labor or shortly after the baby is born.CDC recommends that health care providers screen all pregnant women for HIV, talk to them about HIV or give them written materials, and, for women with risk factors, provide referrals to prevention counseling.

Screening all pregnant women for HIV, and giving them the right medical care, helped decrease the number of babies born with HIV from a high of 1,650 in 1991 to 127 in 2011.

When should I get tested?

The immune system usually takes 2 to 8 weeks to make antibodies against HIV (the average is 25 days). Although most HIV tests look for these antibodies, some look for the virus itself. The period after infection but before the test becomes positive is called the window period.Deciding when to get tested therefore depends on when you may have been exposed and which test is used. See “What kind of tests are available and how do they work?” below.

A few people will have a longer window period, so if you get a negative test result in the first 3 months after possible exposure, you should get a repeat test after 3 months. Ninety-seven percent of people will develop antibodies in the first 3 months after they are infected. In very rare cases, it can take up to 6 months to develop antibodies to HIV.

Between the time you were possibly exposed and when you receive your test results:

  • Don’t have sex—or always use a condom if you do.
  • Don’t inject drugs—or always use clean equipment and don’t share needles or other equipment (works).
Where can I get tested?

You can ask your health care provider for an HIV test. Many medical clinics, substance abuse programs, community health centers, and hospitals offer them, too. You can also:

  • Visit National HIV and STD Testing Resources and enter your ZIP code.
  • Text your ZIP code to KNOWIT (566948), and you will receive a text back with a testing site near you.
  • Call 800-CDC-INFO (800-232-4636) to ask for free testing sites in your area.
  • Contact your local health department.
  • Get a home testing kit (the Home Access HIV-1 Test System or the OraQuick In-Home HIV Test) from a drugstore.
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. Blood tests tend to find infection sooner after exposure than do oral fluid tests. In addition, most blood-based lab tests find infection sooner after exposure than rapid HIV tests. Newer immunoassay tests can find HIV as soon as 3 weeks after exposure to the virus. Several lab tests now in use can detect both antibodies and antigen (part of the virus itself), so find recent infection earlier than tests that detect only antibodies.


The rapid test is an immunoassay used for screening, and it produces quick results, in 20 minutes or less. Rapid tests use blood or oral fluid to look for antibodies to HIV. If an immunoassay (lab test or rapid test) is conducted during the window period (i.e., the period after exposure but before the test can find antibodies), the test may not find antibodies and may give a false-negative result.


Follow-up diagnostic testing is performed if the first immunoassay result is positive.

If your first test is a rapid test, and it is positive, you will be directed to a medical setting to get follow-up testing. If your first test is a lab test, and it is positive, the lab will conduct follow-up testing, usually on the same blood specimen as the first test.

What should I expect when I go in for an HIV test?

When it’s time to take the test, a health care provider will take your sample (blood or oral fluid) and you may be able to wait for the results (if it’s a rapid HIV test). If the test comes back negative, and you haven’t had an exposure for 3 months, you can be confident you’re not infected with HIV.If your test comes back positive, you will need to get a follow-up test, which the testing site will arrange.

Your health care provider or counselor may talk with you about your risk factors, answer questions about your general health, and discuss next steps with you, especially if your result is positive.

See “Will other people know my test result? ” below.

What does a negative test result mean?
A negative result does not necessarily mean that you don’t have HIV. That’s because of the window period—the period after you may have been exposed to HIV but before a test can detect it. The window period depends on the kind of test that was used on your blood or oral fluid. For antibody tests, if you get a negative result within 3 months of your most recent possible exposure, you need to get tested again at the 3-month mark. For RNA tests or antibody/antigen tests, that timeframe may be shorter. Ask your health care provider if and when you need to be retested with a negative test result. And meanwhile, practice abstinence or mutual monogamy with a trusted partner, use condoms every time you have sex (and for every sex act—anal, oral, or vaginal), and don’t share needles and other drug equipment (works).
If I have a negative result, does that mean that my partner is HIV-negative also?
No. Your HIV test result reveals only your HIV status. HIV is not necessarily transmitted every time you have sex. Therefore, taking an HIV test is not a way to find out if your partner is infected. Ask your partner if he or she has been tested for HIV and about his or her risk behaviors, both now and in the past. Consider getting tested together, often referred to as couples testing.
Pasted image at 2016_06_10 09_47 AM
What does a positive result mean?

If you had a rapid screening test, the testing site will arrange a follow-up test to make sure the screening test result was correct. If your blood was tested in a lab, the lab will conduct a follow-up test on the same sample. If the follow-up test is also positive, it means you are HIV-positive.The sooner you take steps to protect your health, the better. Early treatment with antiretroviral drugs and a healthy lifestyle can help you stay well. Prompt medical care prevents the onset of AIDS and some life-threatening conditions.

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. Your local health department can help you find a health care provider who has experience treating HIV. 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 (anal, vaginal, or oral) 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. Find substance abuse treatment facilities near you.

To avoid giving HIV to anyone else,

  • Tell your partner or partners about your HIV status before you have any type of sexual contact with them (anal, vaginal, or oral).
  • 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.
Who will pay for my HIV test?
HIV screening is covered by health insurance without a co-pay, as required by the Affordable Care Act. If you do not have medical insurance, there are places where you can get an HIV test at a reduced cost or for free. See “Where can I get tested?” above for more information.
Who will pay for my treatment if I’m 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, Medicare, Ryan White Care Act treatment centers, and community health centers may be able to help if you meet their rules for eligibility (usually low income and/or disability). CDC is working with its federal partners to make sure that all people who need treatment can get it. Your health care provider or local public health department can direct you to HIV treatment programs.

See The Affordable Care Act Helps People Living With HIV/AIDS for more information.

If I test positive for HIV, does that mean I have AIDS?

No. Being HIV-positive does not mean you have AIDS. AIDS is the most advanced stage of HIV disease. Proper treatment can keep you from developing AIDS.See Basic Information About HIV and AIDS for more information.

I Tested Positive, Now What?

Will other people know my test result?

Your test results are protected by state and federal privacy laws. They can only be released with your permission. Whether anyone can know about your test results or your HIV status depends on what kind of test you take: confidential or anonymous. Some states only offer confidential testing.

  • Confidential testing means that your name and other identifying information will be attached to your test results. The results will go in your medical record and may be shared with your health care providers and your health insurance company. Otherwise, the results are protected by state and federal privacy laws.
  • Anonymous testing means that nothing ties your test results to you. When you take an anonymous HIV test, you get a unique identifier that allows you to get your test results.

With confidential testing, if you test positive for HIV or another STI, the test result and your name will be reported to the state or local health department to help public health officials get better estimates of the rates of HIV in the state. The state health department will then remove all personal information about you (name, address, etc.) and share the remaining non-identifying information with CDC. CDC does not share this information with anyone else, including insurance companies.
For more information, see’s questions about Civil Rights, Legal Disclosure, Insurance, and the Workplace

Should I share my positive test result with others?

Whether you share, or disclose, your status to others is your decision.

If you test positive for HIV, your sex or drug-using partners may also be infected. It’s important that they know they have been exposed so that they can be tested too. You can tell them yourself—but if you’re nervous about disclosing your test result, or you have been threatened or injured by your partner, you can ask your doctor or the local health department to tell them that they might have been exposed to HIV. Health departments do not reveal your name to your partners. They will only tell your partners that they have been exposed to HIV and should get tested. Most states have laws that require you to tell your sexual partners if you are HIV-positive before you have sex (anal, vaginal, or oral) or share drugs. You can be charged with a crime in some states if you don’t tell—even if your partner doesn’t become infected.

Family and friends
In most cases, your family and friends will not know your test results or HIV status unless you tell them yourself. While telling your family that you have HIV may seem hard, you should know that disclosure actually has many benefits—studies have shown that people who disclose their HIV status respond better to treatment than those who don’t.

If you are under 18, however, some states allow your health care provider to tell your parent(s) that you received services for sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, if they think doing so is in your best interest. For more information, see the Guttmacher Institute’s State Policies in Brief: Minors’ Access to STI Services.

In most cases, your employer will not know your HIV status unless you tell. But your employer does have a right to ask if you have any health conditions that would affect your ability to do your job or pose a serious risk to others. (An example might be a health care professional, like a surgeon, who does procedures where there is a risk of blood or other body fluids being exchanged.)

If you have health insurance through your employer, the insurance company cannot legally tell your employer that you have HIV. But it is possible that your employer could find out if the insurance company provides detailed information to your employer about the benefits it pays or the costs of insurance.

All people with HIV are covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act. This means that your employer cannot discriminate against you because of your HIV status as long as you can do your job. For more information, see’s Civil Rights

Who will pay for my treatment if I’m 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, Medicare, Ryan White Care Act treatment centers, and community health centers may be able to help if you meet their rules for eligibility (usually low income and/or disability). CDC is working with its federal partners to make sure that all people who need treatment can get it. Your health care provider or local public health department can direct you to HIV treatment programs.