Should You Get Tested for HIV?
CDC recommends that everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 should get tested for HIV at least once as part of routine health care. People should get tested more often when they have had more than one sex partner or are having sex with someone whose sexual history they don’t know. Some sexually active gay and bisexual men may benefit from more frequent testing (e.g., every 3 to 6 months).
If your last HIV test result was negative, the test was more than one year ago, and you can answer yes to any of the following questions, then you should get an HIV test as soon as possible:
- Are you a man who has had sex with another man?
- Have you had sex—anal or vaginal—with a partner who has HIV?
- Have you had more than one sex partner since your last HIV test?
- Have you injected drugs and shared needles, syringes, or other injection drug equipment (for example, cookers) with others?
- Have you exchanged sex for drugs or money?
- Have you been diagnosed with, or treated for, another sexually transmitted infection?
- Have you been diagnosed with or treated for hepatitis or tuberculosis (TB)?
- Have you had sex with someone who could answer "yes" to any of the above questions or someone whose sexual history you don't know?
Are you pregnant or trying to get pregnant? As part of proactive prenatal care, all pregnant women should receive certain blood tests to detect infections and other illnesses, such as HIV, syphilis, and Hepatitis B. Talk to a health care provider about these tests.
Also, anyone who has been sexually assaulted or has had a high-risk exposure to HIV should consider taking post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) and getting an HIV antigen test that can detect infection sooner than standard antibody testing. PEP may prevent HIV infection after possible exposure to HIV if it is started as soon as possible within 3 days after exposure to HIV.
How Can HIV Testing Help You?
About 1 in 8 people in the United States who have HIV do not know they have it. The only way to know for sure whether you have HIV is to get tested.
Knowing your HIV status gives you powerful information to help you take steps to keep you and your partner(s) healthy:
- If you test positive, you can take medicine to treat HIV. People with HIV who take HIV medicine as prescribed can live long and healthy lives. There’s also an important prevention benefit. If you take HIV medicine as prescribed and get and keep an undetectable viral load, you will not transmit HIV to an HIV-negative partner through sex.
- If you test negative, you have more prevention tools available today to prevent HIV than ever before.
- If you are pregnant, you should be tested for HIV so that you can begin treatment if you're HIV-positive. If you have HIV and take HIV medicine as prescribed throughout your pregnancy and childbirth and give HIV medicine to your baby for 4 to 6 weeks after giving birth, your risk of transmitting HIV to your baby can be less than 1%. HIV medicine will protect your own health as well.
The sooner you know your status, the better. Some people with HIV have it for years before they know it. During that time, they aren’t getting the treatment they need to protect their health and prevent transmission of HIV to their sexual or needle sharing partners. That’s why CDC encourages more frequent HIV testing for individuals who might have a risk for getting HIV.
Is HIV Self-Testing an Option?
Yes. HIV self-testing allows people to take an HIV test and find out their result in their own home or other private location. There are two kinds:
- A Rapid Self-Test is done entirely at home or in a private location and can produce results within 20 minutes. You can buy a rapid self-test kit at a pharmacy or online. The only rapid self-test currently available in the US is an oral fluid test.
- A Mail-In Self-Test includes a specimen collection kit that contains supplies to collect dried blood from a fingerstick at home. The sample is then sent to a lab for testing and the results are provided by a health care provider. Mail-in self-tests can be ordered through various online merchant sites. Your health care provider can also order a mail-in self-test for you.
Check to see if the health department or other organization near you is providing rapid self-tests for a reduced cost or for free. Directly purchased self-tests may not be covered by private health insurance or Medicaid. Be sure to check with your insurance provider and your health care provider about reimbursement for tests that are self-purchased.
Note: State laws regarding self-testing vary and may limit availability. Check with your health care provider for additional testing options.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made it more difficult for some people to access traditional places where HIV testing is provided. Self-testing allows people to get tested for HIV while still following social distancing practices. Ask your local health department or HIV service organization if they offer self-testing kits.
Should You Get Tested for HIV If You Don’t Think You’re at High Risk?
Some people who test positive for HIV were not aware of their risk. That's why CDC recommends that everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 get tested for HIV at least once as part of routine health care and more often if you do things that might increase your risk for getting HIV. (See above).
Even if you are in a monogamous relationship (both you and your partner are having sex only with each other), you should find out for sure whether you or your partner has HIV.