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Basic Questions and Answers About HIV Testing

July 7, 2016

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What Does a Negative Test Result Mean?

A negative result doesn't necessarily mean that you don't have HIV. That's because of the window period -- the time between when a person gets HIV and when a test can accurately detect it. The window period varies from person to person and is also different depending upon the type of HIV test. (See How soon after an exposure to HIV can an HIV test detect if I am infected?)

Ask your health care provider about the window period for the test you're taking. If you're using a home test, you can get that information from the materials included in the test's package. If you get an HIV test within 3 months after a potential HIV exposure and the result is negative, get tested again in 3 more months to be sure.

If you learned you were HIV-negative the last time you were tested, you can only be sure you're still negative if you haven't had a potential HIV exposure since your last test. If you're sexually active, continue to take actions to prevent HIV, like using condoms the right way every time you have sex and taking medicines to prevent HIV if you're at high risk. Learn the right way to use a male condom.

Learn more about how to protect yourself, and get information tailored to meet your needs from CDC's HIV Risk Reduction Tool (BETA).


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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.

It's important to be open with your partners and ask them to tell you their HIV status. But keep in mind that your partners may not know or may be wrong about their status, and some may not tell you if they have HIV even if they know they're infected. Consider getting tested together so you can both know your HIV status and take steps to keep yourselves healthy.

Learn more about how to protect yourself, and get information tailored to meet your needs from CDC's HIV Risk Reduction Tool (BETA).


What Does a Positive Result Mean?

A follow-up test will be conducted. If the follow-up test is also positive, it means you are HIV-positive.

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.

It is important that you start medical care and begin HIV treatment as soon as you are diagnosed with HIV. Anti-retroviral therapy or ART (taking medicines to treat HIV infection) is recommended for all people with HIV, regardless of how long they've had the virus or how healthy they are. It slows the progression of HIV and helps protect your immune system. ART can keep you healthy for many years and greatly reduces your chance of transmitting HIV to sex partners if taken the right way, every day.

If you have health insurance, your insurer is required to cover some medicines used to treat HIV. If you don't have health insurance, or you're unable to afford your co-pay or co-insurance amount, you may be eligible for government programs that can help through Medicaid, Medicare, the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program, and community health centers. Your health care provider or local public health department can tell you where to get HIV treatment.

To lower your risk of transmitting HIV,

  • Take medicines to treat HIV (antiretroviral therapy or ART) the right way every day.
  • Use condoms the right way every time you have sex. Learn the right way to use a male condom.
  • If your partner is HIV-negative, encourage them to talk to their health care provider to see if taking daily medicine to prevent HIV (called pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP) is right for them.
  • If you think your partner might have been recently exposed to HIV -- for example, if the condom breaks during sex and you aren't virally suppressed -- they should talk to a health care provider right away (within 3 days) about taking medicines (called post-exposure prophylaxis, or PEP) to prevent getting HIV.
  • Get tested and treated for STDs and encourage your partner to do the same.

Receiving a diagnosis of HIV can be a life-changing event. People can feel many emotions -- sadness, hopelessness, and even anger. Allied health care providers and social service providers, often available at your health care provider's office, will have the tools to help you work through the early stages of your diagnosis and begin to manage your HIV.

Talking to others who have HIV may also be helpful. Find a local HIV support group. Learn about how other people living with HIV have handled their diagnosis.

You can view stories and testimonials of how people are living well with HIV on the websites for Let's Stop HIV Together and HIV Treatment Works. You can also find many other resources on HIV Treatment Works for people living with HIV.

Learn more about how to protect yourself, and get information tailored to meet your needs from CDC's HIV Risk Reduction Tool (BETA).


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. HIV can lead to AIDS if not treated.

See Basic Information About HIV and AIDS for more information.

Learn more about how to protect yourself, and get information tailored to meet your needs from CDC's HIV Risk Reduction Tool (BETA).


Will Other People Know My Test Result?

If you take an anonymous test, no one but you will know the result. If you take a confidential test, your test result will be part of your medical record, but it is still 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.
  • 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, and they can be released only with your permission.

With confidential testing, if you test positive for HIV, 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 AIDS.gov's questions about civil rights, legal disclosure, insurance, and the workplace.

Learn more about how to protect yourself, and get information tailored to meet your needs from CDC's HIV Risk Reduction Tool (BETA).

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This article was provided by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Visit the CDC's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.
 

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