Mary D. Nettleman, MD, MS, MACP is the Chair of the Department of Medicine at Michigan State University. She is a graduate of Vanderbilt Medical School, and completed her residency in Internal Medicine and a fellowship in Infectious Diseases at Indiana University.
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
HIV testing is done to diagnose those who are newly
infected, to identify previously unrecognized infections, and to relieve the
minds of those who are not infected.
HIV testing should be a routine part of
It is critical that pregnant women be tested because
medications are very effective in reducing transmission of HIV from mother to baby.
HIV testing is usually a two-step process. The first step is to test for
antibodies in blood or saliva. If the test is positive, a second test called a
Western blot is done to ensure that the first result was correct.
tests (antibody and Western blot) are positive, the chances are >99% that the
patient is infected with HIV.
HIV tests may miss some infections, resulting in
false-negative tests. This often occurs soon after infection when antibodies are
just starting to form and are at a level too low to be detected (within ~four weeks of infection).
There are free HIV
testing locations in every state.
What is HIV?
HIV is short for human immunodeficiency virus. This is the virus
that causes the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome or AIDS. HIV is a complicated
virus that uses RNA, not DNA, as its genetic messenger. It replicates
in specialized cells of the body's immune system called CD4 lymphocytes. During
HIV replication, the CD4 cells are destroyed. As more and more cells are killed,
the body loses the ability to fight many infections. If the number of CD4 cells
falls below 200 per cubic millimeter, or if some other special conditions occur,
the person is defined as having AIDS. These special conditions include
infections and cancers that take advantage of the way that HIV suppresses the
immune system. Regardless of the CD4 count, people with HIV infection carry the
virus and can spread it to others through unprotected sex or contact with blood
or some other body fluids.
Statistics show that more than 1.1 million Americans are currently infected with HIV. Over 250,000 of these Americans are not aware that they are infected. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that more than 50,000 new infections with HIV occur each year. Thus, HIV testing is important to diagnose those who are newly infected, to identify previously unrecognized infections, and to relieve the minds of those who are not infected. HIV testing is also used to reduce the risk of transmission during blood transfusions and tissue transplantation.
The CDC recommends routine HIV testing of adolescent and adult patients in all health-care settings, of all women during pregnancy, and the newborns of HIV-positive women. Thus, HIV testing is considered part of routine medical practice, similar to tests that screen for other diseases. People who are at high risk for acquiring HIV should be tested at least annually. Although some infected people will get a rash, fever, or other nonspecific symptoms early after infection, others will not have any signs of HIV until years after exposure. Importantly, HIV testing is able to detect the infection even in asymptomatic people (those who do not have symptoms).
Sometimes, doctors request or require HIV testing as part of evaluation and treatment for other conditions, such as women undergoing treatment with assisted reproductive technologies for infertility or treatment of viral hepatitis. There is increasing concern that not enough people are being tested. Events such as National HIV Testing Day have been used to raise awareness and increase participation in testing.
In some cases, HIV testing may be required by law. This occurs for blood that
is used for transfusions, organ donors, and military personnel. States may
select additional populations for mandatory testing, such as prisoners or