Get Tested for HIV

The Basics

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.

Next section 1 of 7 sections

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:

Next section Previous section 2 of 7 sections

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 7 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.

Next section Previous section 3 of 7 sections

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.

Next section Previous section 4 of 7 sections

Take Action!

Take Action: Get Tested

Take these steps to protect yourself and others from HIV.

Find a place to get tested.

You can get an HIV test at your local health clinic, HIV testing center, hospital, or health department. Your primary care doctor (the doctor you see for regular health care) can also test you for HIV.

To find an HIV testing center near you:

If you want to know more about HIV testing and prevention, take this list of questions to your appointment.

What about cost?

Free HIV testing is available at some testing centers and health clinics.

Under the Affordable Care Act, the health care reform law passed in 2010, insurance plans must cover HIV testing. HIV counseling is covered for women who are sexually active. Talk to your insurance company to find out more.

To learn about other services covered by the Affordable Care Act, visit

Next section Previous section 5 of 7 sections

Take Action: Protect Yourself

Protect yourself from HIV.

The best way to protect yourself from HIV is to not have sex until you are in a relationship with only one person and you have both tested negative.

Here are other steps you can take to help prevent HIV:

  • Use a latex condom with water-based lubricant every time you have vaginal or anal sex.
  • When you have oral sex, use a condom or dental dam (rectangular sheet of latex placed over the vagina).
  • If you share sex toys with your partner, use a condom and clean them between each use.
  • Limit your number of sexual partners.
  • Don’t inject drugs or share needles.
  • If you have more than one sexual partner, get tested for HIV regularly.

Check out these condom do's and don'ts.

Next section Previous section 6 of 7 sections

Take Action: Talk about It

Talk with your partner about getting tested.

It’s important to make time to talk before having sex. Ask your partner to get tested for HIV and other STDs — you can even offer to get tested together.

These ideas can help you start the conversation:

Get counseling about HIV prevention.

If you want more information about preventing HIV, ask your local testing center if they offer prevention counseling. You may want counseling if:

  • You are worried about getting HIV
  • You have HIV and are worried about giving it to someone else
Previous section 7 of 7 sections