The Basics: Overview
The only way to know if you have HIV is to get tested. You could have HIV and still feel healthy.
How often do I need to get tested for HIV?
Everyone ages 15 to 65 needs to get tested for HIV at least once. All pregnant women also need to get tested. How often you need to get tested depends on your risk for HIV infection. Talk to your doctor or nurse about how often you need to get tested.
Get tested for HIV at least once a year if you:
- Have sex without a condom with someone who may have HIV
- Are a man who has sex with men
- Use drugs with needles
- Have a sex partner who has HIV
- Have had a sexually transmitted disease (STD)
- Have sex with more than one partner
- Have sex with people you don’t know
- Have sex for drugs or money
- Are a woman who has sex with a man who also has sex with other men
If you are a man who has sex with men, you may need to get tested more than once a year – like every 3 to 6 months. Talk to your doctor or nurse about what's best for you.
The Basics: What Is HIV?
What is HIV?
HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. This is the virus that causes AIDS. There is no cure yet for HIV/AIDS, but there are treatments that can help people live longer, healthier lives.
How do people get HIV?
HIV is spread through some of the body’s fluids, like blood, semen (cum), vaginal fluids, and breast milk. HIV is passed from one person to another by:
- Having sex (vaginal, anal, or oral) without a condom or dental dam with a person who has HIV
- Sharing needles with someone who has HIV
- Breastfeeding, pregnancy, or childbirth if the mother has HIV
- Getting a transfusion of blood that’s infected with HIV (very rare in the United States)
Learn more about HIV/AIDS:
The Basics: Why Get Tested?
Why do I need to get tested for HIV?
The only way to know if you have HIV is to get tested. Many people with HIV don’t have any symptoms. In the United States, about 1 in 8 people who have HIV don't know it.
Even if you don’t feel sick, getting early treatment for HIV is important.
- If you don’t have HIV (you are HIV-negative), you can take steps to make sure you stay HIV-free.
- If you have HIV (you are HIV-positive), you can take steps to have a healthier future. You can also take steps to protect other people.
Live longer with HIV.
If you have HIV, early treatment can help you live a longer, healthier life. The sooner you get care for HIV, the better.
Protect yourself and others.
If you have HIV, you can take steps to protect your partner from the virus. If you are pregnant or thinking about getting pregnant, you can get treatment to prevent passing HIV to your baby.
The Basics: Testing Options
How can I get tested for HIV?
You can get an HIV test at a doctor's office or clinic – or you can test yourself at home. There are different types of HIV tests. Some use a sample of your blood and some use fluid from your mouth.
How long does it take to get the test results?
It depends on the type of HIV test you get.
- Lab tests take from a few days to 2 weeks to give results.
- Rapid tests give results in 30 minutes or less.
- Home test results can be ready in 20 minutes or by the next business day.
If you test positive, you'll need a second HIV test to be sure. Find out more about the different types of HIV tests.
What’s the difference between confidential and anonymous testing?
When you get tested at a doctor’s office or clinic, your test results are confidential. This means they can only be shared with people allowed to see your medical records.
If you are worried about giving your name, you can get an anonymous HIV test at some clinics. This means that you don’t have to give your name. Learn more about confidential and anonymous HIV testing.