Understanding Your HIV Test Results

Content From: CDC’s HIV BasicsUpdated: October 27, 20235 min read


What Do Your HIV Test Results Mean?

If you’ve just had an HIV test, you may be wondering what a positive or negative test result means. If you were tested in a health care provider’s office, a clinic, or a community setting, the provider or testing counselor will explain what your result means and talk to you about the next steps. If you used a rapid HIV self-test at home or another private location, the package materials will provide this information, along with a phone number you can call.

Below are answers to some of the most common questions.

What If Your HIV Test Result Is Negative?

If your HIV test result is negative, it doesn't necessarily mean you don't have HIV. That's because of the window period—the time between when a person gets HIV and when a test can accurately detect it. The window period varies from person to person and depends on the type of HIV test you take.

Ask your health care provider or testing counselor about the window period for your HIV test. If you’re using a self-test, you can find that information in the test package.

If your test result is negative, get tested again after the window period to be sure. If your test result is negative again, and you have had no possible HIV exposure during the window period, then you do not have HIV.

What’s next? If your HIV test is negative, now is the time to start thinking about the HIV prevention options that work for you such as taking HIV prevention medicine called pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEP or using condoms the right way every time you have sex. If you inject drugs, do not share needles, and use new injection supplies every time to lower your chances of getting HIV.

If you have certain risk factors for HIV, you should continue getting tested at least once a year.

If You Have a Negative Test Result, Does that Mean that Your Partner Is HIV-Negative Also?

No. Your HIV test result reveals only your HIV status.

HIV is not necessarily transmitted every time you have sex or share needles, syringes, or other drug injection equipment (for example, cookers). The risk of getting HIV depends on the type of exposure or behavior, such as sharing needles or having sex without a condom. Therefore, taking an HIV test is NOT a way to find out if your partner has HIV.

It's important to be open with your partners and ask them to tell you their HIV status. Keep in mind that your partners may not know or may be wrong about their status, and some may not tell you about their status. Consider getting tested together so you can both know your HIV status and take steps to keep yourselves healthy.

What If Your HIV Test Result Is Positive?

Most HIV tests are antibody tests. If you use any type of antibody test and have a positive test result, you will need a follow-up blood test to confirm the results.

  • If you had a rapid screening test at a community program or other location, the testing site will arrange a follow-up test to make sure your initial test result was correct.
  • If you used an HIV self-test at home, you should go to a health care provider for a follow-up test. A positive HIV test result must always be confirmed by additional HIV testing performed in a health care setting.
  • If you had a blood test in a health care setting or a lab, the lab will conduct a follow-up test on the same blood sample as the first test.

If your follow-up test is also positive, it means you have HIV.

After you are diagnosed with HIV, your health care provider's office or clinic will help you understand the next steps, including the importance of starting HIV treatment as soon as possible. HIV treatment involves taking HIV medicines called antiretroviral therapy (or ART) that work to control the virus. ART is recommended for all people with HIV, regardless of how long they’ve had the virus or how healthy they are.

If taken as prescribed, HIV medicine can reduce the amount of HIV in your blood (also called your viral load) to a very low or even undetectable level. People with HIV who take HIV medicine as prescribed and get and keep an undetectable viral load can live long and healthy lives and will not transmit HIV to their HIV-negative partners through sex.

If you have health insurance, your insurer is required to cover some medicines used to treat HIV. If you don’t have health insurance or you need help because your insurance doesn’t pay for the treatment you need, there are state, federal, and private resources that can help you. Talk to your HIV care team for help getting connected to resources so you can get the care you need.

Will Other People Know Your Test Result?

HIV tests may be anonymous or confidential.

Anonymous testing means only you will know the HIV test result.

  • When you take an anonymous HIV test, you get a unique identifier that allows you to get your test results.
  • You can also buy an HIV self-test if you want to test anonymously.

Confidential testing means your HIV test result will be part of your medical record.

  • Your name and other personal information will be attached to your test results.
  • The results will go in your medical record and may be shared with your health care provider and health insurance company.
  • Otherwise, your results are protected by state and federal privacy laws, and they can only be released with your permission.

With confidential testing, if your HIV test result is positive, the result and your name will be reported to the state or local health department to help public health officials estimate HIV rates in the state. The state health department will then remove all personal information about you (name, address, etc.) and share the remaining information with CDC. CDC does not share this information with anyone.

Learn more about limits on confidentiality.