Common Testing-Related Questions
Q: Why should I get tested for HIV?
A: Consider the risk you put your partner(s) at if you don't know your own HIV status, or if you are HIV positive. The only way to tell if you have HIV is by taking an HIV test. The advantages of knowing your HIV status are:
• To protect others - You can prevent infecting others if you find out you are HIV positive,
• To protect yourself - You can seek medical treatment to keep yourself healthy.
Q: How long after a possible exposure should I wait to get tested for HIV?
A: The tests commonly used to detect HIV infection are actually looking for the antibodies produced by your body to fight HIV, rather than HIV itself. So it’s suggested that you wait 3 months after a possible exposure to take the test. This will allow your body to develop more HIV antibodies if you have been exposed and will make for an accurate test result. Most people will develop detectable antibodies within 3 months of the initial exposure, with the average being about 25 days. In rare cases, it can take up to 6 months for detectable antibodies to develop. It's very important during the 3-6 months between a possible exposure and taking the HIV test that you protect yourself and others from further possible exposures to HIV. Engaging in only protected sex and not sharing needles is recommended.
Q: What's the difference between anonymous and confidential HIV testing?
A: Anonymous HIV testing means that your name is never given or recorded at the testing site. Confidential HIV testing does record your name and contact information. When you test confidentially, you get a copy of your results, possibly to show a partner. Some sites will ask you if you prefer to test anonymously or confidentially and let you decide before the test is administered. Some sites will only test confidentially meaning they require your name and other identifying information along with an ID.
All positive HIV tests are required by Ohio law to be reported to the Ohio Department of Health. This information is maintained confidentially and is not released for public use.
If you have concerns about whether you will be given a choice of testing anonymously or confidentially, call the testing site you want to go to and ask about their policy.
Q: Are there different kinds of HIV tests?
A: There are currently three kinds of HIV test available, though all three may not be available at every testing site.
• Blood Antibody HIV Tests. Blood antibody tests are used to detect HIV antibodies in the bloodstream. The most common screening tests used today are the EIA (enzyme immunoassay) and the ELISA
(enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay). A second test, referred to as the western blot test, is run to confirm a positive result. When the EIA or ELISA is used in conjunction with the western blot confirmation test, the results are more than 99.9% accurate. Results from EIA/ELISA HIV tests are often available within 20 minutes.
• Oral Antibody HIV Tests. Oral HIV antibody EIA and oral HIV antibody western blot tests are alternatives to blood tests. Oral testing is done with samples of oral fluid from inside the cheeks and gums rather than with blood. Oral tests have been approved by the FDA and are as accurate as blood tests. This test is done to detect the presence of HIV antibodies, not the virus itself. Results from Oral Antibody HIV tests are typically available in 20 minutes.
• Home HIV Testing Kits. Consumer-controlled test kits (popularly known as ‘home HIV test kits’) were first licensed in 1997. Only the Home Access test kit has been approved by the FDA (the accuracy of home test kits other than Home Access cannot be verified). Home HIV test kits contain HIV/AIDS literature and materials that enable you to take your own blood sample. The testing procedure involves pricking your finger with a special device, placing drops of blood on a specially treated card, then mailing the card in to be tested at a licensed laboratory where your HIV status will be determined. The test results are accessed by using an anonymous identification number, which customers are given in the kit. They use this number when phoning for their test results several weeks later. Home testing kits are sold in drugstores throughout the country and are available by mail. The Home Access test kit can be found at most local drug stores.
Q: What is a rapid HIV test?
A: A rapid test for detecting antibodies to HIV is a test that produces very quick results, usually in 10 to 30 minutes. By comparison, results from traditional HIV antibody screening test may not be available for 1-2 weeks. The availability of rapid HIV tests may differ from one place to another. The rapid HIV test is just as accurate as the traditional tests. Both tests look for the presence of antibodies to HIV. As is true for all screening tests, a reactive rapid HIV test result must be confirmed before a diagnosis of infection can be given.
Q: Where can I get tested for HIV infection?
A: Many places provide testing for HIV infection. Common testing locations include local health departments, hospitals, private doctors, family planning and/or community based organizations specifically set up to provide HIV testing. It is important to seek testing at a place that also provides counseling about HIV and AIDS. Counselors can answer any questions you might have about risky behavior and ways you can protect yourself and others in the future. In addition, they can help you understand the meaning of the test results and describe what HIV/AIDS related resources are available in your local area. Visit the Testing Sites page to find a testing location near you.
Q: If I test HIV negative, does that mean that my partner is HIV negative also?
A: No. Your HIV test result reveals only your HIV status. Your negative test result does not tell you whether your partner has HIV. HIV is not necessarily transmitted every time there is an exposure. Therefore, your taking an HIV test should not be seen as a method to find out if your partner is infected.
Testing should never take the place of protecting yourself from HIV infection. If your behaviors are putting you at risk for exposure to HIV, it is important to reduce your risks.
Q: What if I test positive for HIV?
A: If you test positive for HIV, the sooner you take steps to protect your health, the better. Early medical treatment and a healthy lifestyle can help you stay well. Prompt medical care may delay the onset of AIDS and prevent some life-threatening conditions. If you do not have health insurance, there may be health care providers in your area that provide reduced-cost or free care to uninsured persons. There are a number of important steps you can take immediately to protect your health.
• See a doctor, even if you do not feel sick. Try to find a doctor who has experience treating HIV. There are now many drugs to treat HIV infection and help you maintain your health. It is never too early to start thinking about treatment possibilities.
• Have a TB (tuberculosis) test done. 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. Also, test for hepatitis B and C and syphilis.
• Smoking cigarettes, drinking too much alcohol, or using illegal drugs (such as speed, ecstasy, cocaine, or heroin) can weaken your immune system. There are programs available that can help you to reduce or stop using these substances.
There is a lot you can do to stay healthy. Learn all that you can about maintaining good health. Check out Project Inform or The Body for good info on HIV/AIDS and living with HIV. Call the Ohio HIV/STD Hotline to get additional information, order publications, and obtain referrals to local and state resources that may be useful to you. The Hotline Ohio HIV/STD number is 1-800-332-2437. Visit the Care page for more information on living with HIV.