HIV Testing (Off-Site Testing)

HIV is a virus that attacks the immune system. It lowers the body’s ability to fight infection and to stop the growth of certain types of cancer cells. Being HIV positive is not the same as having AIDS. AIDS is a complication from being infected with HIV.

HIV can be transmitted by exposure to the blood or certain body fluids from an infected person. In the U.S., HIV is most often spread by having sexual contact or sharing IV needles with a person who has the virus. Because of a possible exposure to the HIV virus, you are being referred for testing. Most testing facilities will provide counseling before and after the test. This is to teach you more about HIV risk and help you understand your test results.

The diagnosis of HIV is often made with an antibody or antigen/antibody test of the blood. Sometimes HIV testing is done on saliva. Antibodies develop in your body when you are exposed to a virus such as HIV. The first test done is often a screening test for HIV. If the screening test is positive, then a second (and sometimes a third) test is done to confirm the results.

There is a time lag between when someone is infected with HIV and when a test can detect it. This is called the window period. The window period is not the same for all types of HIV tests. It can range from 2 weeks to 3 months. Ask your healthcare provider about the window period for the test you’re taking. For a home test, the package should tell you what the window period is. If you get negative HIV test results within 3 months of a possible exposure, your healthcare provider may advise that you get tested again 3 months or later after the exposure. In some cases, doing so may help make sure you are out of the window period and the results are right.

Getting an HIV test

There are different ways to be tested for HIV:

  • Confidential testing means that your healthcare provider will know your test results. They will be recorded as a written report in your medical file. The results will be available to others caring for you. They will also be available to your insurance company and public agencies, such as your state or local health department.

  • Anonymous testing means that your name is never taken at the time of testing. Only code letters or numbers are used. Results are given verbally, in person, and not in writing. So absolutely no one has access to your test results except you. The advantage of this method is that there can be no reporting of information to an insurance company or public agency. But there are important disadvantages. Your healthcare provider will not know your results and will not be able to treat you properly, raising your risk for illness or death if you are HIV positive. Anonymous testing is not often advised anymore. It can be hard to find a place that does it.

  • Home testing kits are available. But they will not detect the HIV virus as early or as accurately as laboratory testing. If you use a home test kit, make sure that it is FDA approved. If you want to be sure of your results, or if you are at high risk for exposure, and your home test results are negative, consider going to a healthcare provider for a standard HIV lab test.

If your exposure is considered high risk (such as with some types of sexual or occupational exposure), you may be offered medicine to reduce your risk for infection. You can learn more about the risk for HIV infection from various activities on the CDC website at . Or get information tailored to your own needs using the CDC's HIV risk reduction tool at .

Preventing the spread of HIV

Because you may not know right away if you have been infected with HIV, you should protect others from possible exposure to your body fluids. This is vital during the first 12 weeks after exposure (the maximum window period). Follow these guidelines so you don't spread the virus to others.

  • The safest thing is not to have sex. But if you do, always use “safer sex” practices. Latex barriers, such as condoms, offer protection from spreading HIV if they are used in the right way. But they aren't a guarantee against transmission. Use condoms or other latex barriers for all sexual contact that involves the exchange of body fluids.

  • Don't donate blood, plasma, organs, tissue, or semen.

  • If you're pregnant, getting tested for HIV is important. HIV can be transmitted to your baby during your pregnancy or birth. But treatment with medicine can greatly reduce this risk. The earlier that treatment is started, the better.

  • HIV can be transmitted through breastmilk. If you are breastfeeding, talk with your healthcare provider about whether you should stop.

  • HIV is spread through semen, blood, vaginal fluids, and breastmilk. So make sure your partners do not come into contact with your body fluids.

  • Never share drug injection equipment. Blood can stay in needles and syringes and spread HIV.

  • Never share items that may have your blood on them, such as toothbrushes or razors.

Follow-up care

Please do 1 of the following to get an HIV test:

  • Speak to your healthcare provider, clinic, or hospital.

  • Call 800-CDC-INFO (800-232-4636) or use the locator tool at to find testing sites in your area.

  • Contact your health department.

  • Get a home testing kit from a drugstore.

When to get medical advice

Call your healthcare provider right away if you develop any of these symptoms during the next 3 months:

  • Unexplained fever or rash

  • Aching muscles and joints

  • Chronic fatigue

  • Swelling of lymph nodes

  • Prolonged diarrhea

  • Thrush (white spots in the mouth)

  • Repeat or lasting vaginal yeast infections

© 2000-2022 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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