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You can get tested for HIV in lots of places. Many testing sites offer free or lower cost testing services, including a sliding scale fee based on income. Here’s what to expect.
As of 2018,
This means that in the United States, approximately 165,000 HIV-positive people aren’t receiving proper medical treatment and might be transmitting the infection to other people without knowing it.
“You can’t see the virus, nor do you always get symptoms when you have it,” says Michelle Forcier, MD, a gender-affirming clinician with virtual healthcare service FOLX. ”The only way to know if you have HIV is to get tested.”
“You can get HIV tested at your primary care provider, your local health department, nearby STI testing clinics, or most hospitals,” says Forcier.
Planned Parenthood also offers STI testing — including HIV testing — for people of all genders, as do the following places:
- VA medical centers
- substance treatment facilities
- mobile STI testing vans
To find an HIV-testing center near you, consider putting the following into your Google search bar:
- HIV testing near me
- HIV testing near me free
- STI testing near me
- HIV testing in [your city]
- STD testing in [your state]
You can also search your zip code on the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) Get Tested directory to find HIV testing sites near you.
Getting tested at a healthcare facility is one confidential, cost-consciousness, and accurate option for finding out your current HIV status — but it’s not the only option.
You can also find out your current HIV status by taking an at-home HIV test, says Forcier.
There are two main types of at-home HIV tests: mail-in and rapid tests.
These are at-home HIV tests that require that you collect a sample of body fluid — usually blood from a finger prick— at home. Then, mail the sample to a lab where experts can check it for HIV antigens or antibodies.
Because you need to mail in the sample and experts need to review it, results typically take a week or so to receive.
You can order at-home HIV tests that companies can send to your home through various online healthcare providers.
Popular at-home HIV tests include:
A rapid self-test can detect HIV antibodies in your saliva.
“You swab the gums and then very carefully follow the instructions to run the test and get results,” says Forcier. As their name suggests, this test typically delivers results within 20 minutes.
Many pharmacies — including CVS, Walgreens, and Duane Read, to name a few — have rapid self-tests for sale.
At-home HIV tests can be accurate as long as you follow the testing instructions to a T.
The amount of saliva taken during these tests has fewer antibodies than a blood sample, according to Forcier. “Rapid tests might miss and not detect these low levels of antibodies in early infection,” they say.
Rapid tests also have a slightly higher chance of missing an early HIV infection — for instance, one that has occurred in the last 2–4 weeks — giving a false negative.
So, if you have a potential exposure, take a rapid HIV test, and receive a negative result, experts recommend
That said, “for most people, these rapid tests can be very useful and are better than never getting tested for HIV because of fear, worries about stigma, or just not having a provider that you trust or feel safe talking about testing,” says Forcier.
If you have insurance or Medicaid, you can get in-person HIV testing at no cost.
Insurance plans must cover HIV testing for everyone ages 15–65 without a copay and older or younger folks who may have a higher chance of contracting HIV.
If you don’t have insurance or are concerned about your guardian or spouse seeing an insurance claim, you do have options for free or lower cost HIV testing.
Many testing sites offer HIV testing for free or offer testing on a sliding scale based on income. Use the CDC’s Get Tested directory to find free HIV testing sites near you.
Insurances don’t usually cover at-home HIV tests, including mail-in and rapid tests. If you have a health savings account or flexible spending account, you can use your funds to cover the cost.
At-home HIV tests typically cost between $50–$100.
How long it takes to get your results depends on the type of HIV test you get.
You can typically expect results within:
- In-lab HIV test: 5–7 business days
- Mail-in self-test: 5–7 business days
- Rapid self-test: 30 minutes or less
There are three possible results for an HIV test:
- negative (sometimes called “non-reactive”)
- positive (sometimes called “reactive”)
- indeterminate (sometimes called “equivocal” or “invalid”)
“If you get a negative result, it means that the test did not find any evidence of HIV infection,” says Forcier. Here, you likely don’t have HIV unless you take a test too soon after a recent exposure.
If you get a positive result, it means the test is reacting to some substance in your blood, says Forcier.
“This doesn’t always mean that you’re HIV-positive,” says Forcier. “While it could mean it reacted to an HIV antibody or antigen in your blood, it could also mean it reacted to another substance in your blood,” they say.
Many experts recommend taking a second HIV test to confirm your results.
“If you have to get a second test, you would want to get a blood test done at a healthcare facility in order to get the most accurate confirmatory testing,” says Forcier.
If you get results that appear as ”indeterminate,” ”equivocal,” or ”invalid,” it means that the test can’t clearly detect the results or that there’s a problem or error with the testing device.
Typically, for both in-lab HIV tests and mail-in self-tests, if you get a positive result, a healthcare professional will call you to talk about the next steps.
Getting tested for HIV is the only way to know your current HIV status. If you get a positive result, early diagnosis and treatment can help manage the condition and prevent transmission to others.
“HIV is not a death sentence,” says Forcier. ”It’s a virus that can be well-controlled with a variety of medications.”
Gabrielle Kassel (she/her) is a queer sex educator and wellness journalist who is committed to helping people feel the best they can in their bodies. In addition to Healthline, her work has appeared in publications such as Shape, Cosmopolitan, Well+Good, Health, Self, Women’s Health, Greatist, and more! In her free time, Gabrielle can be found coaching CrossFit, reviewing pleasure products, hiking with her border collie, or recording episodes of the podcast she co-hosts called Bad In Bed. Follow her on Instagram @Gabriellekassel.