Deciding to get tested for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is not an easy decision. However, a person can have HIV without showing any signs. There is no way to know, without testing, if a person is infected.
HIV is passed to others by:
direct intimate contact with body fluids, such as blood, vaginal secretions, or semen
an HIV-infected mother to her baby during pregnancy
having sexual intercourse without a latex or plastic condom with an HIV-positive partner and
sharing contaminated needles
As soon as a person is infected with HIV, antibodies against the virus begin to form. The presence of these antibodies is used as a test for HIV. Even though a person may be infected with HIV, he or she may not test positive for up to six months.
Two blood tests are used to check for HIV. They both must be positive before a person is said to be HIV-positive. If one is positive and the other is not, both tests should be repeated in one month. Testing for HIV is confidential, and some centers offer anonymous testing.
Confidential testing assures that your results will be guarded with care. Only those persons who need to know are told. Positive results will be reported by name to the health department for two reasons. The first is so they can assist with partner notification and referral to care. The second is that these figures are reported to the federal government in order to know how many people have HIV, and how much money each state needs for HIV care. Anonymous testing does not use your name at all. Positive results are reported without any personal identifiers. Some people feel this better insures the civil rights of those who test HIV positive.
It is important to get pre-test counseling with the HIV test. This can help to identify those behaviors that place a person at risk for HIV. If the test is negative, one can make the changes needed to stay free of HIV. If the test is positive, counseling can help with finding the medical and social services needed.
Recently, home test kits have been made available. Pre-and post- test counseling is not received when one uses home test kits. Make sure you know to whom you will turn should your results come back positive. If the result is negative, take the time to learn how you can minimize your future risk for HIV.
Those who test positive face many hard choices. Whom do they tell? What can they do to stay healthy? How can they best protect their loved ones? Local AIDS support organizations can offer answers and support. Learning whether you are HIV-positive will help you protect yourself and your loved ones.