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Frequently Asked Questions about Testing

  1. Are there HIV tests that don't involve drawing blood?
    Yes. Urine and oral-fluid HIV tests offer alternatives for anyone reluctant to have blood drawn.

    Urine testing for HIV antibodies is not as sensitive or specific as blood testing. Available urine tests include an EIA and a Western blot test that can confirm EIA results. A physician must order these tests, and the results are reported to the ordering physician or his or her assistant.

    Orasure© is currently the only federally approved oral-fluid test. It collects fluids from inside the mouth, and analyzes them using an EIA test and supplemental Western blot test if necessary. Oral fluid tests are offered at many HIV testing locations. Contact a location near you to find out if this test is available.
  2. "Does the Government keep track of those who test positive?"
    The U.S. Public Health Service does not record or collect names of people who test positive. The state health departments that do collect names treat this information as highly confidential. Most states have laws against releasing confidential information without permission. Call your state or local health department to find out the laws in your state.
  3. "Does it take long to get an appointment to be counseled and tested?"
    It depends on where you live. Some counseling and testing facilities can schedule appointments very quickly. Others may take a few weeks. Call your local health department to find out.
  4. "How can I find a doctor who will treat me?"
    Call your local medical society. They should be able to refer you to a doctor who will help you. For additional help, you can contact a local AIDS organization. The people there may be able to help you find a doctor who is experienced with HIV and AIDS-related issues. For the telephone number of these organizations, call the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) National AIDS Hotline at 1-800-342-AIDS; Spanish 1-800-344-7432; Deaf Access 1-800-243-7889 (TTY).
  5. "How much does HIV counseling and testing cost?"
    Most publicly funded sites are free or require only a minimum fee. If you go to your doctor for counseling and testing, the cost can vary. In some areas, it can be more than $200. You can ask the cost beforehand.
  6. "Should I get counseled and tested right away if I think I put myself at risk?"
    Yes. If you get infected with HIV, tests may not detect it until a few weeks after infection. The test detects HIV antibodies in your blood. If you are infected, your body takes time to make enough antibodies for the test to measure. It can take as little as 2 weeks. But it might take several months. Nearly all infected people develop antibodies within 3 months of infection. For some persons it may take up to 6 months. If you think you placed yourself at risk for HIV infection, you should get counseling, and, until you know you are not infected, you should protect others as if you were infected.
  7. "If I'm pregnant or thinking about having a baby, should I be counseled and tested?"
    If you or your sex or drug partner have engaged in behaviors that can transmit HIV, you should get counseling and testing. If you test positive you should be aware that without treatment there is a one-in-four chance that you will pass the virus to your unborn baby. Medical treatment can reduce this to about 1 chance in 12. If you are already pregnant, you should tell your health care provider that you tested positive. This will help your provider care for you and your baby during and after the pregnancy.
  8. "My partner tested negative. That means I'm not infected, right?"
    Your partner's test does not always tell your status. The only way to know whether you are infected is to have your own test.
  9. What is an HIV antibody test?
    When HIV enters the body, it begins to attack certain white blood cells called T4 lymphocyte cells (helper cells). Your doctor may also call them CD4 cells. The immune system then produces antibodies to fight off the infection. Although these antibodies are ineffective in destroying HIV, their presence is used to confirm HIV infection. HIV tests look for the presence of HIV antibodies; they do not test for the virus itself.
  10. "When I had blood tests done for my physical, marriage license, or insurance, was I tested for HIV antibodies? Do hospitals routinely test for HIV infection?"
    You should not assume that your blood was tested for HIV antibodies. If you are concerned, ask your health care provider what tests will be done whenever you have blood taken. If you are still concerned, ask specifically if your blood was or will be tested for HIV antibodies.
  11. "Why get tested?"
    If you know you are infected, you can take steps to protect your health and the health of others. There are clear benefits to early treatment, even though there is no cure for HIV infection. Medical options, including medications and other approaches, can help slow the infection and delay or prevent life-threatening conditions.
  12. "Will my insurer find out if I test positive?"
    Your insurer will know you took the test if you pay for the test through insurance. Insurers can find out your test result only if you release it. On some insurance forms, your signature authorizes release of medical records. If you are concerned, do not sign medical release forms unless you know their purpose. You may also choose to be counseled and tested at a facility separate from your health care provider. These facilities include publicly-funded testing sites, sexually transmitted disease clinics, and family planning clinics. Call your health department of the CDC National AIDS Hotline (1-800-342-AIDS) to find out the nearest facility that offers confidential counseling and testing.

Information provided by the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention