Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is the virus that causes acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). Because of the ways HIV can be spread, and because there is presently no cure for AIDS, many people fear being diagnosed with HIV. But while there is no cure for AIDS, it is still possible to live a productive life with HIV, and if you suspect you have it, it is smart to get tested for it. Read on about how to get tested for HIV.
- 1Determine if you have HIV symptoms. If you have flu-like symptoms that last for a week or 2, and you don't recall being exposed to the influenza virus, you may have HIV. If you suspect your symptoms are from HIV, see your doctor.
- Not everyone infected with HIV exhibits symptoms; some people infected with the virus may not exhibit symptoms for several years after exposure.
- 2Examine your past behavior for anything that may have exposed you to HIV. Certain behaviors increased your chances of being exposed to HIV. People who have injected drugs with needles shared with other drug users or who have unprotected sex with multiple partners or partners who themselves have had unprotected sex with other partners are at risk. Also at risk are people diagnosed with or treated for sexually transmitted diseases, hepatitis or tuberculosis, as well as those who've had unprotected sex with someone so diagnosed.
- If you've had unprotected sex, both you and your partner should get tested.
- You cannot get HIV just from being around someone who has it, nor can you get it from someone else's sweat, saliva or tears or by sharing a closed-mouth kiss. Insect bites or stings do not transmit HIV, nor can you get it from donating blood, as the needles used for blood donations are not reused.
- 3Protect your unborn child if you plan to get pregnant. Drugs are available to prevent a pregnant woman from passing HIV to her baby, but these drugs will be used only if doctors know the woman has HIV. If you want to have children, and you either have symptoms or have put yourself at risk, you need to get tested for HIV.
How to Get Tested
- 1Go to an HIV testing site. These special clinics run on a confidential basis; many preserve anonymity by assigning patients identification numbers to match them with their test results. Some run on an appointment basis, while others let patients drop in. Most collect information about patient ethnicity, sexual orientation and activity, drug use and prior HIV tests. Patients are counseled before and after the test. The test takes one of several forms:
- A blood sample test from a vein that looks for the presence of HIV antibodies. It takes 1 to 2 weeks to process for results.
- A saliva sampling test from between the cheek and gum. This test also takes 1 to 2 weeks to process.
- A urine test. However, this test is less accurate than the blood and saliva sample tests.
- A rapid sample test, where blood is taken from the finger and processed in 20 to 30 minutes. Patients who receive this test may receive less counseling than with the other 2 forms of testing, depending on how busy the testing site is.
- All tests must be confirmed with a follow-up test, using the same bodily fluid that was sampled for the original test. In addition, if you test negative for HIV within 3 months of potential exposure, you'll need to be tested again 3 months afterward to rule out the possibility that the first test missed the presence of HIV antibodies.
- 2Test at a regular clinic or doctor's office. You may not be as likely to be tested anonymously in either of these settings as at a dedicated HIV testing site or receive the same level of counseling, but you may have more flexibility in making an appointment and not have to wait as long to be tested.
- In addition to the tests listed under the previous step, if you visit your doctor just after taking part in HIV-risk behavior, he or she may administer an RNA test, designed to find the virus itself instead of antibodies it causes the body to produce. Typically, antibodies don't show up in detectable quantities until 2 to 8 weeks after infection (12 weeks at the outside), while the RNA test will detect the virus within 9 to 11 days after infection.
- 3Test with a "home testing kit." More correctly a "home collection kit," this test involves pricking your own finger with the included device, putting drops of blood on a treated card to be mailed to a laboratory for treatment. Anyone taking the test is assigned an identification number to preserve anonymity. Counselors are available by telephone before the test, while waiting for results and after receiving them.
- While several HIV home test kits are advertised online, the only one presently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is the Home Access HIV-1 Test System. Even so, it requires a follow-up test to verify the results, and anyone who receives a positive result is given a referral for such a test.
- In some countries, the sale of home testing kits is illegal.
If You Test Positive
- 1Notify any partners you've had sex with. They'll need to get tested for HIV as well.
- 2Be cared for by a doctor with experience in treating HIV. Do this even if you're not experiencing any symptoms. There are now a number of treatment options for HIV.
- 3Be tested for other infectious diseases. Being infected with HIV makes you more vulnerable to other infectious diseases. It's a good idea to be tested for tuberculosis, hepatitis and sexually transmitted diseases such as syphilis.
- 4Practice safe sex. Use a condom when having sex. Latex condoms are highly, but not absolutely, effective in preventing HIV transmission, if used consistently and correctly. If either you or your partner has a latex allergy, use a condom made of polyurethane.
- To prevent the condom from breaking during sex, use of a lubricant is advised, although spermicides such as nonoxynol-9 are not recommended to prevent infection from HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases.
- 5Modify other risky habits. Certain practices such as smoking, excessive drinking or using illicit drugs can weaken your immune system. Take advantage of programs to curb your use of these substances.
- Avoid sharing razors or toothbrushes with others, as these may have someone else's blood on them.
- 6Get retested regularly. The Centers for Disease Control recommend that people who have practiced behaviors that put them at risk for HIV be tested at least once a year.