Diagnostics & Testing

HIV Testing

What is HIV?

HIV is the abbreviation for human immunodeficiency virus, the virus that causes acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). The virus weakens a person's ability to fight infections and cancers. A person can get HIV by coming into contact with an infected person's body fluids (blood, semen, vaginal fluids, breast milk). HIV can be spread through:

  • Vaginal, oral or anal sex
  • Sharing unclean needles to take drugs
  • Pregnancy (from mother to baby)
  • Blood transfusions (Since 1985, blood donations have been routinely tested for HIV, so infection from blood transfusions is rare.)

You cannot get HIV from:

  • Touching or hugging someone who has HIV or AIDS
  • Public bathrooms or swimming pools
  • Sharing cups, utensils, telephones or other personal items
  • Bug bites

How can I know if I have HIV?

You can get a simple blood test to see if you have been infected with HIV. The test looks for HIV antibodies in your blood. These antibodies are substances that the body makes in response to the HIV infection.

A small sample of your blood is drawn and sent to the laboratory for testing. If the first test shows signs of HIV (preliminary test), the sample will be tested again (confirmatory test). HIV infection is only confirmed after the sample of blood has been tested at least two times.

Do I have to take the test?

No. HIV testing is voluntary. Anyone is free to decline testing. Your decision whether to get tested, or the test result itself, will not prevent you from getting health care.

However, there are many good reasons to get tested:

  • If you are pregnant and are HIV positive, it is critical that you take medications to help protect your unborn baby from becoming infected.
  • If HIV infection is found, your health care provider can provide more appropriate care. You can also learn ways to stay healthy longer.
  • HIV testing helps prevent the spread of HIV.

Can I change my mind?

Yes. If after giving the blood sample you decide against testing, inform the attending nurse or physician. Patients who are not hospitalized (outpatients) can withdraw their consent up until they leave the doctor's office or clinic. Hospital patients (inpatients) can withdraw their consent up until one hour after the blood sample has been drawn.

What does the test result mean?

Positive test result: A confirmed, positive test result means you have been infected with HIV. Being infected with HIV does not necessarily mean that you have AIDS. It can take many years for people with HIV to develop AIDS.

Negative rest result: A negative test result means that no signs of HIV infection were found in your blood. A negative test does not always mean that you do not have HIV. Signs of HIV may not show up in the blood for several months after infection. For this reason, you should be tested again if you have been exposed to HIV or are at risk for HIV infection.

What happens to my test results?

Your test results become part of your medical record. Therefore, the results could be disclosed to third-party payers (such as medical insurance companies) and other authorized parties. A positive test result will also be reported to the appropriate health department.

Can my test results be kept confidential?

Yes. Though HIV tests performed become part of the patient's medical record, there are places you can go that provide confidential HIV testing. These places will perform HIV tests without even taking your name (anonymous testing). An anonymous HIV test does not become part of your medical record. For more information on anonymous testing, call the Ohio AIDS hotline at 1.800.332.AIDS.

If you discover that you have HIV, inform your medical provider so that you can receive proper care.


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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 6/10/2010...#4849.