Nearly one in five Americans who are living with HIV don’t know it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Finding out your HIV status will let you start treatments that could prolong your life. Knowing will also help you protect your partner(s) from getting infected.
The CDC recommends that everyone ages 13 to 64 get tested at least once. Get tested regularly if you have unprotected sex, sex with multiple partners, or you inject drugs.
There is a window of two to eight weeks in which your immune system starts making antibodies against the HIV virus after exposure. Most HIV tests look for these antibodies.
If you get a negative test result within the first three months after you may have been exposed to HIV, get tested again at the end of the three-month period to confirm your status.
In the past, you had to go to a doctor’s office, hospital, or community health center to get tested for HIV. Some people find it embarrassing or emotionally difficult to get tested in the presence of others.
Now you can take an HIV test right from the privacy of your own home. There are two options: the Home Access HIV-1 Test System and OraQuick In-Home HIV Test. They’re both sold at drugstores (although you need to be age 17 or older to purchase them).
Each home test works a little differently. With the OraQuick In-Home HIV Test, you swab the inside of your mouth. Then you place the swab in a tube with a developing solution.
Results are available in 20 to 40 minutes. If one line appears, the test is negative. Two lines mean you may be positive. You’ll need a follow-up test from a lab to be sure.
With the Home Access HIV-1 Test System, you prick your finger and collect a sample of your blood on a special piece of paper. Then you send the sample to a lab. You’ll be given a PIN number so your results remain anonymous.
The lab will test the sample, and then you’ll call a given phone number a few days later to retrieve your results. Counseling over the phone is available if you need it.
Home tests are an accurate way to test for HIV. However, they may take longer to detect the virus after you’ve been exposed than other tests performed at a doctor’s office do.
Because HIV levels in saliva are lower than levels in the blood, the OraQuick In-Home HIV Test may not detect HIV as quickly after infection as a blood test would.
If you get a negative test result and it has been more than three months since you may have been exposed, you can be pretty sure that you don’t have HIV.
If it has been less than three months since exposure, you should take another HIV test at the end of the three-month period, just to be sure. During that time, practice safe sex by using a condom and don’t share needles.
If you get a positive result, the lab should retest your sample to make sure it wasn’t inaccurate. A positive result on the follow-up test means that you have HIV.
See your doctor as soon as possible to discuss your treatment and therapy options. Your doctor can get you started on antiretroviral therapy—drugs that help stop the HIV infection from progressing.
Make sure you practice safe sex, using condoms and/or dental dams with any and all sexual partners.