Getting an HIV test is just the beginning. A positive test result gives you the chance to keep ahead of the virus. A negative test result gives you the opportunity to stay that way.

Getting tested for HIV is a smart thing to do. Still, many people refuse to get tested. Some find the idea of getting tested too frightening, even though they will often continue to agonize about whether they’re infected. Others think of testing as unnecessary and hold on to the belief that HIV can’t happen to them.

Many times when people get tested, they happily discover their concern was unfounded. The assurance that comes from a negative test result can provide enormous relief. For others, getting tested and learning they are HIV positive is the first important step towards staying healthy.

One of the most basic truths about HIV is that gender, age, race and economic status are irrelevant when it comes to vulnerability to HIV. Anyone can become infected. Despite huge advances in treatment and a wealth of knowledge, the HIV epidemic is going to be with us for a long time to come. At present, there is no cure for HIV/AIDS, but there are medications that have proven very effective in keeping HIV-positive people alive, longer and healthier.

Knowing your accurate HIV status through testing is essential to good health and long life.

An HIV test shows if someone is infected with HIV, the virus that attacks the body’s immune system and causes acquired immune deficiency syndrome, or what is more commonly known as AIDS. There are several different tests that can be used to determine if you are carrying the HIV virus. The most commonly used tests look for antibodies to the virus in the blood, mouth or urine.

If an initial test is negative—meaning that antibodies have not been found—the testing is complete. If it is positive, additional testing is necessary to make sure that it is not a “false-positive” result (some molecules in the bloodstream can sometimes cause this). First, the laboratory may repeat the initial blood, mouth or urine-based test. If it’s positive, the laboratory will conduct a blood test called Western blot. If both the initial test and the Western blot test yield a positive result, a diagnosis of HIV infection is confirmed and the results are sent back to the health care professional who ordered the test.

Many testing sites now offer rapid testing, involving oral swabs and blood from pin pricks. Results using these rapid tests are usually available within 20 minutes or so. If you have blood drawn for an HIV test, it can take between one and two weeks to learn the results. If it seems as if you are waiting a long time for your results, this in no way indicates a “positive” outcome and that the laboratory needs more time to conduct additional tests.

To learn more about HIV testing, including the different types of tests that are available, click here. If you’re uncomfortable being tested for HIV by your own health care provider, there are anonymous and confidential testing sites you can go to. To learn about sites near you, search our Health Services Directory.

Last Reviewed: January 31, 2016