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This does not mean, however, that testing is done automatically when you see a health care provider, even if you have blood drawn. Many health care providers don’t test unless you ask to be tested. The only way to know for sure if you are being tested is if you have discussed it.
HIV testing is also recommended for all pregnant women as a part of routine prenatal care. HIV positive pregnant women can significantly reduce (by 98%) the chances of passing the virus to their unborn baby by taking certain antretroviral therapies prescribed by their doctor during pregnancy. After birth the baby may also be put on treatment for a short period to reduce the change of infection.
It can take weeks after infection for the body to develop enough antibodies to be measurable on a test. The time period between HIV exposure and a positive test is called the “window period,” during which a person could test negative for HIV but still be infected and able to transmit the virus to others. Your health care provider who provides the test can advise as to whether retesting may be recommended.
HIV blood tests may be finger prick or a draw from the inner arm, and typically take a few weeks to get back results from the lab. Rapid oral HIV tests use a swab to collect cells from inside the mouth and may be available on site in as fast as 20 minutes.
Having your blood drawn does not mean you are necessarily being tested. HIV also cannot be diagnosed with a pap smear or through a pelvic or prostate exam.
If you don’t feel comfortable asking your health care provider to test you, there are many health clinics you can go to get tested. Many offer free or low cost testing so don’t let cost be a deterrent. And, don’t be afraid to ask questions. For local HIV testing locations in your area click here.
At some testing locations you can get tested anonymously, meaning your name is not linked to your test results. However, anonymous testing sites are not available in all states and at all locations. You can also take an at home oral HIV test where the results are only known to you.
If you do test positive, it is important to get into care right away. The Department of Health and Human Services recommends all HIV positive persons start antiretroviral therapy as soon as they are diagnosed, both for their own health and wellbeing as well as to help prevent the spread of the virus to others.
However, blood donation is not a reliable or recommended way to learn your HIV status.
Maintaining your treatment and staying in regular medical care is a critical part of living healthy and well with HIV. Being on antiretroviral treatment also significantly reduces—by as much as 96%–the chances of passing the virus on to others.
There are more options than ever to help you stay HIV negative.
When used correctly and consistently, condoms have been shown to be highly effective in preventing the spread of HIV, as well as many other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
For added protection, consider PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis), a once-daily pill to help protect against HIV. When taken as prescribed, PrEP has been found to reduce the chance of getting HIV by more than 90 percent.
Continue to make HIV testing a routine part of your health care. Your health care provider can advise on how often you should get tested. For those at higher risk of exposure, more frequent testing is advised, in some instances as often as every 3 to 6 months.