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Get Tested for HIV

young man and woman

The Basics

The only way to know if you have HIV is to get tested. You could have HIV and still feel healthy. Many doctors recommend HIV testing for everyone ages 13 to 64.

How often you get tested depends on your risk for HIV infection.

Get tested for HIV at least once a year if you:

  • Have unprotected sex (sex without a condom) with someone who may have HIV
  • Have sex with men who have sex with men
  • Use drugs with needles
  • Have a sex partner who is HIV-positive (has HIV)
  • Have had a sexually transmitted disease (STD)

Get tested every 3 to 6 months if you:

  • Are a man who has sex with men
  • Have sex with more than one partner
  • Have sex with people you don’t know

Talk to the doctor or nurse about your risk for HIV. Ask how often you need to get tested.

Why do I need to get tested for HIV?
Many people with HIV don’t have any symptoms. Even if you don’t feel sick, getting early treatment for HIV is important. The only way to know if you have HIV is to get tested.

  • If you are HIV-negative (you don’t have HIV), you can take steps to make sure you stay HIV-free.
  • If you are HIV-positive (you have HIV), you can take steps to have a healthier future. You can also take steps to protect other people.

Live longer with HIV.
If you have HIV, early treatment can help you live a longer, healthier life. The sooner you get care for HIV, the better.

Protect yourself and others.
If you are HIV-positive, you can take steps to protect your partner(s) so that you don’t pass the virus on to them. If you are pregnant or thinking about getting pregnant, you can help prevent passing HIV to your baby.

How can I get tested for HIV?
There are different types of HIV tests. The most common are:

  • Lab tests – It can take up to 2 weeks to get the results.
  • Rapid tests – Results are ready in 10 to 20 minutes.

When you get tested, the nurse will take a sample of your blood or collect fluid from your mouth with a swab. If you test positive, the doctor or nurse will give you another test to be sure.

Find out more about the different types of HIV tests.

What is HIV?
HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. This is the virus that causes AIDS. There is no cure yet for HIV/AIDS, but there are treatments that can help people live longer, healthier lives.

How do people get HIV?
HIV is spread through some of the body’s fluids, like blood, semen (cum), vaginal fluids, and breast milk. HIV is passed from one person to another by:

  • Having unprotected sex (vaginal, anal, or oral) with a person who has HIV
  • Sharing needles with someone who has HIV
  • Breastfeeding, pregnancy, or childbirth if the mother has HIV
  • Getting a blood transfusion that has HIV (very rare in the U.S.)

Learn more about HIV/AIDS:

What’s the difference between confidential and anonymous testing?
If you get tested at a doctor’s office or clinic, you can ask for a confidential test. This means that the test results are shared only with people allowed to see your medical records.

If you are worried about giving your name, you can get an anonymous HIV test. This means that you don’t have to give your name.

When you take the test, you are given a number. When it’s time to get the test results, you give your number instead of your name.

Take Action!

Take these steps to protect yourself and others from HIV.

Find a place to get tested.
Ask your doctor or nurse for an HIV test. Or visit an HIV testing center or health clinic. You also can get tested at a hospital or health department.

To find an HIV testing center near you:

If you want more information before you get tested, take this list of questions about HIV testing to your appointment.

What about cost?
Free HIV testing is available at some testing centers and health clinics.

Screening for HIV is also covered under the Affordable Care Act, the health care reform law passed in 2010. HIV counseling is covered for women who are sexually active. Talk to your insurance company to find out what this means for you.

For information about other services covered by the Affordable Care Act, visit

Protect yourself from HIV.
The best way to protect yourself from HIV is to not have sex until you are in a relationship with only one person and you have both tested negative. Here are other steps you can take to help prevent HIV:

  • Use a latex condom with water-based lubricant every time you have vaginal or anal sex.
  • When you have oral sex, use a condom or dental dam (rectangular sheet of latex placed over the vagina).
  • Limit your number of sexual partners.
  • Don’t inject drugs or share needles.
  • If you have more than one sexual partner, get tested for HIV regularly.

Get tips on using condoms and dental dams.

Talk with your partner about getting tested.
It’s important to take time to talk before having sex. Ask your partner to get tested for HIV and other STDs. Offer to get tested together.

These ideas can help you start the conversation:

Get counseling about HIV prevention.
If you want more information about preventing HIV, ask your local testing center if they offer prevention counseling. You may want counseling if:

  • You are worried about getting HIV
  • You have HIV and are worried about giving it to someone else

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Content last updated on: September 27, 2012

National Health Information Center

P.O. Box 1133, Washington, DC 20013-1133