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Get Tested for HIV

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Even though there's no cure for HIV, it's important to get tested for it. In fact, your doctor may suggest getting tested even if you don't ask about it. This is because it is vital that everyone knows their HIV status. If you find out that you have HIV, there are drugs that can slow down the progress of the virus, help you feel better if you have health problems from HIV, and keep you from getting some infections that people with HIV often get. If you are pregnant, you also will be able to help prevent passing HIV to your baby. You can tell your sexual partners if you have HIV and protect them from getting the virus. If you test negative, you can take steps to stay that way.

When you have HIV, your body makes antibodies (disease-fighting proteins) to fight the virus. The tests for HIV do not look for the virus, but actually measure these antibodies. There are several types of tests that you can take to see if you test negative or positive for HIV.

Blood. This is the most common test. Blood is drawn to find the antibodies your body makes to fight HIV. The results are usually available between a few days and two weeks.

Urine. The patient gives a urine (pee) sample to find the antibodies in your urine. The results are usually available between a few days and two weeks.

Oral (mouth). You put a pad between your cheek and gum for two to five minutes. It finds the antibodies in the blood vessels in your cheek and gum. It is sent to a lab for results and you'll receive the results in 5 to 7 days.

Rapid tests. These are tests that give you results quickly. There are 2 types: blood tests and oral (mouth) tests. For the blood test, blood is taken from your finger, and you can get your results in 20 to 60 minutes. For the oral test, a pad is used to swab your gums. Results are ready in 20 minutes. Four rapid HIV tests have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA):

  • OraQuick® (and its newer version OraQuick® Advance) Rapid HIV-1/2 Antibody Test
  • Reveal™ (and its newer version Reveal™ G2) Rapid HIV-1 Antibody Test
  • Uni-Gold Recombigen® HIV Test
  • Multispot® HIV-1/HIV-2 Rapid Test

Home Access test. You place drops of blood from you finger onto a card. You then mail the card to the lab. You receive a number that you use to call for results. There is only one home test approved by the FDA: Home Access Express HIV-1 Test System. It takes three to seven days to get test results. You can buy this FDA approved test online or at the drugstore. Beware: There are several HIV home test kits you can buy online that are NOT approved by the FDA. Many of these tests give wrong results.

There are many places to get tested: freestanding HIV testing centers, health departments, hospitals, private doctors' offices, and clinics. To find a testing site in your area, call CDC-INFO at 800-CDC-INFO (232-4636). Also, if you go to a doctor for an illness, injury, or pregnancy, he or she may offer you an HIV test.

Confidential Verses Anonymous Testing

If you're concerned about giving your name, you can get tested without giving your name. This is called "anonymous" testing. When you get an anonymous HIV test at a testing site, they record a number or code with the test result, not your name. A counselor gives you this number at the time you take the test. Then you return to the testing site or call and give them your number or code to learn the result of your test.

If you get the test from your doctor, you can ask that the information be confidential. This means the results may be shared only with people allowed to see your medical records. With confidential testing, state health departments may also have access to your test results.

What is Your Partner's HIV Status?

You may not know about your partners' risk for HIV infection, such as unprotected sex with multiple partners, sex with men, or injection drug use.

Many women avoid getting tested for HIV or don't ask their partners to be tested. The testing process can seem scary to some and too much work to others. Many women just haven't figured out how to talk about testing with their partners.

To get your partner on board:

  • tell your partner you want to talk about testing so that the two of you can be closer and worry less
  • emphasize that sex will be less stressful once you both know your status

If your sexual partner has been intimate with someone else, it's important to tell your gynecologist during your annual exam so that you can be tested. Also ask your partner to take an HIV and STD test. If you have changed partners or you have other high-risk behaviors, such as injection drug use or multiple partners, then you should ask for an HIV test as well.

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