HIV testing shows whether a person is infected with HIV. HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. HIV is the virus that causes AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). AIDS is the most advanced stage of HIV infection. Learn about what a positive and negative HIV test result mean.
What Does a Negative HIV Test Result Mean?
A negative result doesn't necessarily mean that 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 is also different depending upon the type of HIV test.
Ask your health care provider about the window period for the kind of test you’re taking. If you’re using a home test, you can get that information from the materials included in the test’s package. If you get an HIV test after a potential HIV exposure and the result is negative, get tested again after the window period for the test you’re using to be sure. To learn more about the window period and when a person should get retested, see CDC’s How soon after an exposure to HIV can an HIV test if I am infected?. If you get an HIV test within 3 months after a potential HIV exposure and the result is negative, get tested again in 3 more months to be sure.
If you learned you were HIV-negative the last time you were tested, you can only be sure you’re still negative if you haven’t had a potential HIV exposure since your last test. If you’re sexually active, continue to take actions to prevent HIV, like using condoms the right way every time you have sex and taking medicines to prevent HIV if you’re at high risk.
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. Therefore, taking an HIV test is not a way to find out if your partner is infected.
It's important to be open with your partner(s) and ask them to tell you their HIV status. But keep in mind that your partner(s) may not know or may be wrong about their status, and some may not tell you if they have HIV even if they know they're infected. Consider getting tested together so you can both know your HIV status and take steps to keep yourselves healthy.
What Does a Positive HIV Test Result Mean?
If you have a positive HIV test result, a follow-up test will be conducted. If the follow-up test is also positive, it means you are HIV-positive.
If you had a rapid screening test, the testing site will arrange a follow-up test to make sure the screening test result was correct. If you used a self-testing kit at home, a positive HIV test result must always be confirmed by additional HIV testing performed in a health care setting. If your blood was tested in a lab, the lab will conduct a follow-up test on the same sample.
If your follow-up test result confirms you are infected with HIV, the next thing is to take steps to protect your health and prevent transmission to others. Begin by talking to your health care provider about antiretroviral therapy (ART). ART is the use of HIV medicines to treat HIV infection. People on ART take a combination of HIV medicines every day. ART can keep you healthy for many years and greatly reduces your chance of transmitting HIV to your sex partner(s) if taken the right way, every day. Your health care provider will help you decide what HIV medicines to take.
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 Federal resources that may help you.
To lower your risk of transmitting HIV,
- Take medicines to treat HIV (antiretroviral therapy or ART) the right way every day so that you achieve and maintain an undectable viral load.
- Use condoms the right way every time you have sex. Learn the right ways to use a male condom and a female condom.
- If your partner is HIV-negative, encourage them to talk to their health care provider to see if taking daily medicine to prevent HIV (called pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP) is right for them.
- If you think your partner might have been recently exposed to HIV—for example, if the condom breaks during sex and you are not virally suppressed—they should talk to a health care provider right away (no later than 3 days) about taking medicines (called post-exposure prophylaxis, or PEP) to prevent getting HIV.
- Get tested and treated for STDs and encourage your partner to do the same.
Receiving a diagnosis of HIV can be a life-changing event. People can feel many emotions—sadness, hopelessness, and even anger. Allied health care providers and social service providers, often available at your health care provider's office, will have the tools to help you work through the early stages of your diagnosis and begin to manage your HIV.
Talking to others who have HIV may also be helpful. Find a local HIV support group. Learn about how other people living with HIV have handled their diagnosis.
You can view stories and testimonials of how people are staying adherent to their HIV treatment and living well with HIV by visiting HIV.gov’s Positive Spin.
If You Test Positive for HIV, Does That Mean You Have AIDS?
No. Testing positive for HIV does not mean you have AIDS. AIDS is the most advanced stage of HIV disease. HIV can lead to AIDS if not treated.
See What Are HIV and AIDS for more information.
Will Other People Know Your Test Result?
If you take an anonymous test, no one but you will know the result. If you take a confidential test, your test result will be part of your medical record, but it is still protected by state and federal privacy laws. Most testing is done confidentially.
- Anonymous testing means that nothing ties your test results to you. When you take an anonymous HIV test, you get a unique identifier that allows you to get your test results. These tests are not available at every place that provides HIV testing.
- Confidential testing means that your name and other identifying information will be attached to your test results. The results will go in your medical record and may be shared with your health care providers and your health insurance company. Otherwise, the results are protected by state and federal privacy laws, and they can be released only with your permission.
With confidential testing, if you test positive for HIV, the test result and your name will be reported to the state or local health department to help public health officials get better estimates of the rates of HIV in the state. The state health department will then remove all personal information about you (name, address, etc.) and share the remaining non-identifying information with CDC. CDC does not share this information with anyone else, including insurance companies.
As a follow up to a positive HIV test, the local health department may contact you to make sure that you received the test results and understood them, and to find out whether you received referrals to HIV medical care and social services and whether you have received HIV medical care and treatment. The health department representative may talk with you about the need to tell your sexual or needle-sharing partner(s) about their possible exposure to HIV. They may also offer partner services to assist you with these conversations. If you want, the health department can try attempt to locate any or all of your partners to let them know they may have been exposed to HIV. They will be able to help them find a place to get tested and give them information about PrEP, PEP, and other ways that they can protect themselves and access other prevention and care services.
If you are HIV-positive, it is important to disclose your HIV status to your health care providers (doctors, dentists, etc.) so that they can give you the best possible care. You may also consider disclosing your status to others.
Learn more about how to protect yourself and your partners, and get information tailored to meet your needs from CDC's HIV Risk Reduction Tool (BETA).