HIV Testing: What You Need to Know

HIV test

Approximately 1.2 million people in the United States have human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). According to the CDC, 158,500 of those people are unaware of their status. 

Approximately 40% of new HIV infections every year are transmitted by people who don’t know they have it. It’s important to get tested for HIV so you can reduce the transmission of the virus and get treated as soon as possible. 

Who should get tested for HIV?

The CDC recommends that anybody between the ages of 13 and 64 should get tested at least once as part of routine health care. People who have more than one sexual partner should be tested more often. The CDC also recommends that people with certain risk factors should be tested more often. These risk factors can include:

  • If you’re a man who has had sex with another man
  • You have had sex with someone who has tested positive for HIV
  • You have had more than one sexual partner since your last HIV test
  • You’ve shared needles, syringes, or other drug-injection equipment
  • If you’ve been diagnosed with or treated for another sexually transmitted disease
  • If you’ve been diagnosed with or treated for hepatitis or tuberculosis

There are other risk factors, so ask your doctor how often they think you should get tested.

HIV screening tests

Though HIV tests are very accurate, no HIV test can detect the virus immediately after infection. How soon HIV can be detected depends on the type of test used. The most commonly used tests are:

  • Antibody tests: This is the most common type of HIV screening test. This test looks for disease-fighting proteins (antibodies) in a person’s blood or fluid. It can take between 3 to 12 weeks to make enough antibodies to tell if you have HIV.
  • Antigen/antibody tests: This test looks for both antibodies and antigens. This screening test is also known as a combination or a fourth generation test. It’s performed by a laboratory on blood from a vein and can usually detect HIV infection 18 to 45 days after exposure. This test can take longer to detect infection (approximately 18 to 19 days after exposure) if done with blood from a finger prick.
  • Nucleic acid amplification test (NAAT): This test looks for the actual virus in the blood and involves drawing blood from a vein. This test can detect HIV in your blood as early as 7 to 14 days after you were infected. 

At-home tests

There are two at-home HIV tests that are FDA approved. The availability of these tests may help increase awareness of HIV infection for people who wouldn’t otherwise get an HIV test. If you choose to do an at-home HIV test, choose from one of the following two FDA approves tests:

  • Home Access HIV-1 Test System
  • OraQuick In-Home HIV Test

Importance of HIV testing

People with HIV who know their status can get HIV treatment, which can help you live a longer, healthier life. If you test positive, talk to your doctor about antiretroviral therapy (ART). ART involves a combination of HIV medicines every day.

Testing positive also means you can protect others. When you take ART the way you’re supposed to, you lower the risk of giving someone else the virus by 96%.  

HIV testing in Texas

The CDC estimates that 1 in 6 Texans living with HIV have not been diagnosed. Here in Texas, law requires that people receiving a positive HIV test result be given the opportunity for immediate, face-to-face counseling related to the meaning of the test and possible need for further testing and available resources.

If you have any questions regarding HIV testing, reach out to our lab today.

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