The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 1 in 5 people who are living with HIV in the United States do not know that they are infected. They recommend that anyone who is between 13 and 64 and is sexually active be tested for HIV. If you are negative, you can take steps to make sure you stay that way. If you are positive, the sooner you know it, the better so that you can take advantage of the treatments available and avoid infecting other people. The test is easy and you can get your results in as little as 20 minutes. HIV testing should be part of your regular health check-up just like blood pressure and other screening tests.
If you are pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant, HIV testing is very important for you and your baby. If a woman is infected with HIV, proper medical care and certain drugs given during pregnancy can lower the chance of passing HIV to your baby. Thus, all women who are pregnant should be tested during each pregnancy. For information about testing centers near you, simply enter your Zip Code into our HelpEXPRESS search.
When HIV enters the body, the immune system (which fights infections) starts to produce antibodies (chemicals that are part of the immune system that recognize invaders like bacteria and viruses and mobilize your body to fight infection). With HIV, these antibodies cannot fight off the infection, but by looking for them, we can tell whether you have HIV in your body. Most HIV tests look for the HIV antibodies rather than looking for HIV itself. There are tests that look for HIV's genetic material directly, but these are expensive and not used often.
Many people assume they receive an HIV test when they get a physical or other blood test, but unless you ask your doctor, you won't know for sure. HIV testing should be a part of your regular health care, but ask your doctor just to be sure.
Louisiana has a number of sites that offer free HIV testing. For more information on these sites, simply enter your Zip Code into our HelpEXPRESS search.
There are different kinds of HIV tests. In Louisiana, the most common types of HIV tests are:
Conventional blood tests - this involves giving some blood that is sent to a lab and you receive the results in a few days up to two weeks.
Conventional oral test - this involves collecting a specimen from your mouth and the sample is sent to a lab and you receive the results in a few days up to two weeks.
Rapid finger stick test - this involves giving a couple drops of blood that are tested on site and you receive your results in 10-20 minutes.
Rapid oral test - this involves collecting a specimen from your mouth and the sample is tested on site and you receive your results in 10-20 minutes.
Some tests take a few days up to 2 weeks for results, but with rapid HIV tests, you can get your results in about 20 minutes. All positive rapid HIV tests must be followed up by another test to confirm the positive result. Results of this confirmatory test can take a few days to a few weeks.
A positive HIV test means that you are HIV positive. This means the HIV virus was found in your body. Being HIV-positive means that you could infect others with HIV if you have unprotected sex or share needles, so be sure to practice safe sex and clean your works and share your status with any future sexual partners.
A positive result is an important medical message that may help you stay healthy and extend your life. You should contact a doctor, especially one who is experienced with treating persons who are HIV-infected. You and your doctor can monitor your health and take advantage of the advances made in HIV treatment. If you learn about your status by testing, you have a chance to slow or prevent some of the possible negative health outcomes. Even if you didn't get tested, HIV would present itself at some point as an infection or damage to your immune system. And, if you wait for HIV disease to present itself, many of your best medical options would already be lost.
A negative test result means that no HIV antibodies were found in your body. It can take a few weeks up to 3 months for antibodies to HIV to be detectable in a person's body. So, if your possible exposure was less than 3 months ago, your body might not have had time to produce antibodies and you will need to have another test later. But if there was no possible exposure in the last 3 months, you can feel certain you do not have HIV antibodies in your body.
There is a period of time between the time of infection and the time that an HIV test can detect the antibodies of an HIV infection, called the "window period." People who are in this window period may receive a negative test result, but are in fact positive and can transmit the infection to other people. This is why it is important to get tested again if you have engaged in any risky behaviors. A negative test does not mean that you are immune to HIV or that you may not get it in the future.
A negative test only tells you about your status, not your partner's status. Every exposure to HIV does not result in becoming infected. Testing should not be used as a way to protect yourself from HIV.
Only a Western Blot test can yield indeterminate or inconclusive results. This test is performed on a whole blood specimen at a lab. It means that, of all the sign of HIV that are possible to recognize, only a few were recognized on the test. Therefore, a confirmed positive or negative result could not be determined by the test.
An invalid test is only a possibility with a rapid HIV test. Invalid means that the test was unable to be interpreted, either related to an operator error, problem with specimen collected, or manufacturer error.
The words "confidential" and "anonymous" are often confused.
Confidential HIV Testing means the testing center records the person's name along with the results of his/her test. The only people with access to your test results are medical personnel and the state health department.
Anonymous HIV Testing means that no name is ever given to the testing center and only the person who is having the test is aware of the results. But if you don't return for your results, the testing center will have no way to contact you.
Everyone being tested for HIV should have a choice of testing confidentially or anonymously. Louisiana offers anonymous testing and mandates doctors to report HIV positive test results.