HIV Testing

  • Medical Author:

    Sandra Gonzalez Gompf, MD, FACP is a U.S. board-certified Infectious Disease subspecialist. Dr. Gompf received a Bachelor of Science from the University of Miami, and a Medical Degree from the University of South Florida. Dr. Gompf completed residency training in Internal Medicine at the University of South Florida followed by subspecialty fellowship training there in Infectious Diseases under the directorship of Dr. John T. Sinnott, IV.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    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.

There are a variety of HIV tests.

Types of HIV Tests

The body makes antibodies to try to fight HIV, although the antibodies cannot eradicate the virus. Antibody testing is often done in two parts. First a sensitive screening test is performed on the blood. If the screening test is positive, a second test is done to confirm that HIV antibodies are present. The types of tests have varied over the years. At first, the screening test used an enzyme-linked immunoassay (ELISA) with confirmatory testing by Western blot. This strategy did not test for HIV-2, sometimes misclassified HIV-2 infection, missed very early infections where antibody had not yet been produced, and sometimes produced indeterminate results.

Quick GuideHIV AIDS Facts: Symptoms and Treatments

HIV AIDS Facts: Symptoms and Treatments

HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) testing facts

  • 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.
  • New sexual partners should consider getting an HIV test before sex to better inform themselves of how to keep from getting HIV. There is no vaccine, but there are other prevention methods.
  • HIV can infect anyone who has sex, including those with heterosexual, bisexual, homosexual, or any variation of sexual contact, so an HIV test can benefit everyone.
  • Every adult can benefit from being tested for HIV at least once. Many people never learn how they got HIV or whom they got it from. Some were monogamous, but their partner was having sex or was using an injected drug outside the relationship.
  • The sooner a person learns they have HIV, the sooner they can get a referral for treatment and live a fairly normal life. Avoiding this knowledge only shortens life and well-being and puts other people at risk in the long run.
  • HIV testing should be a routine part of medical practice. Most states no longer require formal signed consent for HIV testing.
  • 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 HIV-specific proteins (antibodies or antigens) 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.
  • If both tests 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 have not yet developed or are just starting to form and are at a level too low to be detected (within about four weeks of infection).
  • There are free HIV testing locations in every state.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/7/2017

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