What You Can Do
Knowing your HIV status is a source of strength, not a reason for fear. Getting an HIV test is the only way to know if you have HIV or not.
Know your HIV status. The first step in protecting your health and the health of your partners is to make sure you know your HIV status. When you know your status, you can take care of yourself, and you are less likely to give the virus to others. Research shows that if people know they have HIV, they often take steps to protect their partners.
Find a free, fast, and confidential HIV test near you. You can also call 800-CDC-INFO (800-232-4636) for help finding a testing site. On the go? Text your ZIP code to KNOWIT (566948), and you will receive a text back with a testing site near you.
Know your risk. You may wonder how often you need to get tested for HIV. That depends on your risk for getting HIV. A general rule is to get tested at least once a year. But remember: your HIV test result expires every time you have risky sex.
CDC recently reported that gay and bisexual men may benefit from getting an HIV test more often, every 3 to 6 months. To understand your risk, you need to also understand the window period. This is a period right after someone gets infected but before infection shows up on an HIV test.
Know how to stay healthy. There are many reasons for getting tested for HIV. The most important reason is that you will have the information you need to make good decisions about your sexual health and your future. In addition to staying on top of your HIV status, check out these tips on what additional tests, vaccinations, and other steps gay and bisexual men can take to stay healthy.
Answers to Frequently Asked Questions
Should I get tested for HIV?
CDC recommends that health care providers test everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 at least once as part of routine health care. One in seven people in the United States who have HIV do not know they are infected.
Behaviors that put you at risk for HIV include having vaginal or anal sex without a condom or without being on medicines that prevent or treat HIV, or sharing injection drug equipment with someone who has HIV. If you answer yes to any of the following questions, you should definitely get an HIV test:
- Have you had sex with someone who is HIV-positive or whose status you didn’t know since your last HIV test?
- Have you injected drugs (including steroids, hormones, or silicone) and shared equipment (or works, such as needles and syringes) with others?
- Have you exchanged sex for drugs or money?
- Have you been diagnosed with or sought treatment for a sexually transmitted disease, like syphilis?
- Have you been diagnosed with or sought treatment for hepatitis or tuberculosis (TB)?
- Have you had sex with someone who could answer yes to any of the above questions or someone whose history you don’t know?
If you continue having unsafe sex or sharing injection drug equipment, you should get tested at least once a year. Sexually active gay and bisexual men may benefit from more frequent testing (e.g., every 3 to 6 months).
You should also get tested if
- You have been sexually assaulted.
- You are a woman who is planning to get pregnant or who is pregnant.
How can testing help me?
Getting tested can give you some important information and can help keep you—and others—safe. For example,
- Knowing your HIV status can give you peace of mind—and testing is the only way you can know your HIV status for sure.
- When you and your partner know each other’s HIV status, you can make informed decisions about your sexual behaviors and how to stay safe.
- If you are pregnant, or planning to get pregnant, knowing your status can help protect your baby from becoming infected.
- If you find out you are HIV-positive, you can start taking medicine for your HIV. Getting treated for HIV improves your health, prolongs your life, and greatly lowers your chance of spreading HIV to others.
- If you know you are HIV-positive, you can take steps to protect your sex partners from becoming infected.
I don't believe I am at high risk. Why should I get tested?
Some people who test positive for HIV were not aware of their risk. That's why CDC recommends that providers in all health care settings make HIV testing a routine part of medical care for patients aged 13 to 64, unless the patient declines (opts out). This practice would get more people tested and help reduce the stigma around testing.
Even if you have been in a long-term relationship with one person, you should find out for sure whether you or your partner has HIV. If you are both HIV-negative and you both stay faithful (monogamous) and do not have other risks for HIV infection, then you probably won't need another HIV test unless your situation changes.
Where can I get tested?
Many places offer free, fast, and confidential HIV tests. Here's how to find an HIV testing site near you:
- Visit National HIV and STD Testing Resources and enter your ZIP code.
- Text your ZIP code to KNOWIT (566948), and you will receive a text back with a testing site near you.
- Call 800-CDC-INFO (800-232-4636) to ask for free testing sites in your area.
- Contact your local health department.
- Two home testing kits are now available online and in most drugstores.
What kinds of tests are available, and how do they work?
The most common HIV test is the antibody screening test (immunoassay), which tests for the antibodies that your body makes against HIV. The immunoassay may be conducted in a lab or as a rapid test at the testing site. It may be performed on blood or oral fluid (not saliva). Because the level of antibody in oral fluid is lower than it is in blood, blood tests tend to find infection sooner after exposure than do oral fluid tests. In addition, most blood-based lab tests find infection sooner after exposure than rapid HIV tests.
Several tests are being used more commonly that can detect both antibodies and antigen (part of the virus itself). These tests can find recent infection earlier than tests that detect only antibodies. These antigen/antibody combination tests can find HIV as soon as 3 weeks after exposure to the virus, but they are only available for testing blood, not oral fluid.
The rapid test is an immunoassay used for screening, and it produces quick results, in 30 minutes or less. Rapid tests use blood or oral fluid to look for antibodies to HIV. If an immunoassay (lab test or rapid test) is conducted during the window period (i.e., the period after exposure but before the test can find antibodies), the test may not find antibodies and may give a false-negative result. All immunoassays that are positive need a follow-up test to confirm the result.
Follow-up diagnostic testing is performed if the first immunoassay result is positive. Follow-up tests include: an antibody differentiation test, which distinguishes HIV-1 from HIV-2; an HIV-1 nucleic acid test, which looks for virus directly, or the Western blot or indirect immunofluorescence assay, which detect antibodies.
Immunoassays are generally very accurate, but follow-up testing allows you and your health care provider to be sure the diagnosis is right. If your first test is a rapid test, and it is positive, you will be directed to a medical setting to get follow-up testing. If your first test is a lab test, and it is positive, the lab will conduct follow-up testing, usually on the same blood specimen as the first test.
Currently there are only two home HIV tests: the Home Access HIV-1 Test System and the OraQuick In-home HIV test. If you buy your home test online make sure the HIV test is FDA-approved.
The Home Access HIV-1 Test System is a home collection kit, which involves pricking your finger to collect a blood sample, sending the sample to a licensed laboratory, and then calling in for results as early as the next business day. This test is anonymous. If the test is positive, a follow-up test is performed right away, and the results include the follow-up test. The manufacturer provides confidential counseling and referral to treatment. The tests conducted on the blood sample collected at home find infection later after infection than most lab-based tests using blood from a vein, but earlier than tests conducted with oral fluid.
The OraQuick In-Home HIV Test provides rapid results in the home. The testing procedure involves swabbing your mouth for an oral fluid sample and using a kit to test it. Results are available in 20 minutes. If you test positive, you will need a follow-up test. The manufacturer provides confidential counseling and referral to follow-up testing sites. Because the level of antibody in oral fluid is lower than it is in blood, oral fluid tests find infection later after exposure than do blood tests. Up to 1 in 12 people may test false-negative with this test.
RNA tests detect the virus directly (instead of the antibodies to HIV) and thus can detect HIV at about 10 days after infection—as soon as it appears in the bloodstream, before antibodies develop. These tests cost more than antibody tests and are generally not used as a screening test, although your doctor may order one as a follow-up test, after a positive antibody test, or as part of a clinical workup.
What should I expect when I go for an HIV test?
When it is time to take the test, a health care provider will take your sample (blood or oral fluid), and you may be able to wait for the results (if it is a rapid HIV test). If the test comes back negative, you should receive some HIV risk reduction counseling. You are finished with testing for the time being.
If your test comes back positive, you will need to get a supplemental test, which the testing site will arrange.
Your health care provider or counselor may talk with you about your risk factors, answer questions about your general health, and discuss next steps with you, especially if your result is positive.
See Will other people know my test result? below.
What does a negative test result mean?
A negative result does not necessarily mean that you don't have HIV. That's because of the window period—the period after you may have been exposed to HIV but before a test can detect it. The window period depends on the kind of test that was used on your blood or oral fluid. For antibody tests, if you get a negative result within 3 months of your most recent possible exposure, you need to get tested again at the 3-month mark. For RNA tests or antibody/antigen tests, that timeframe may be shorter. Ask your health care provider if and when you need to be retested with a negative test result. And meanwhile, practice abstinence or mutual monogamy with a trusted partner, use condoms every time you have sex (and for every sex act — anal, oral, or vaginal), and don't share needles and other drug equipment (works).
If I have a negative result, does this mean that my partner is HIV-negative also?
No. Your HIV test result reveals only your HIV status. HIV is not necessarily transmitted every time you have sex. Therefore, taking an HIV test is not a way to find out if your partner is infected. Ask your partner if he or she has been tested for HIV and about his or her risk behaviors, both now and in the past. Consider getting tested together, which is often referred to as couples testing.
What does a positive result mean?
If you had a rapid screening test, the testing site will arrange a supplemental test to make sure the screening test result was correct. If you had a lab-based screening test, the lab will conduct a supplemental test with the same sample. If the supplemental test is also positive, you will be diagnosed as HIV-positive.
If you test HIV-positive, the sooner you take steps to protect your health, the better. Early treatment with antiretroviral drugs and a healthy lifestyle can help you stay well. Prompt medical care may delay the onset of AIDS and prevent some life-threatening conditions.
Here are some important steps you can take right away to protect your health:
- See a licensed health care provider, even if you don't feel sick. Your local health department can help you find a health care provider who has experience treating HIV. There are medicines to treat HIV infection and help you stay healthy. It is never too early to start treatment. Current treatment guidelines recommend treatment with antiretroviral therapy (ART) for all people with HIV, including those with early infection.
- Get screened for other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). STIs can cause serious health problems, even when they don't cause symptoms. Using a condom during all sexual contact (anal, vaginal, or oral) can help prevent many STIs.
- Get a tuberculosis (TB) test. You may be infected with TB and not know it. Undetected TB can cause serious illness, but it can be successfully treated if caught early.
- Get help if you smoke cigarettes, drink too much alcohol, or use illegal drugs (such as methamphetamine), which can weaken your immune system. Find substance abuse treatment facilities near you.
Take the following steps to avoid giving HIV to anyone else:
- Tell your partner or partners about your HIV status before you have any type of sexual contact with them (anal, vaginal, or oral).
- Use latex condoms and/or dental dams with every sexual contact. If either partner is allergic to latex, plastic (polyurethane) condoms for either the male or female can be used.
- Don't share needles, syringes, or other drug paraphernalia with anyone.
- Stay on ART to keep your viral load low and greatly reduce your ability to spread HIV to others.
- If your steady partner is HIV-negative, discuss whether he or she should consider pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP)—medications to prevent HIV.
If I test positive for HIV, does that mean I have AIDS?
No. Being HIV-positive does not mean you have AIDS. AIDS is the most advanced stage of HIV disease. Proper treatment can keep you from developing AIDS.
See Basic Information About HIV and AIDS for more information.
Will other people know my test results?
Your test results are protected by state and federal privacy laws. Whether anyone can know about your test results or your HIV status depends on what kind of test you take: confidential or anonymous. Some states only offer confidential testing.
- Confidential testing means that your name and other identifying information will be attached to your test results. The results will go in your medical record and may be shared with your health care providers and your health insurance company. Otherwise, the results are protected by state and federal privacy laws.
- Anonymous testing means that nothing ties your test results to you. When you take an anonymous HIV test, you get a unique identifier that allows you to get your test results.
With confidential testing, if you test positive for HIV or another STI, the test results and your name will be reported to the state and local health department to help public health officials get better estimates of the rates of HIV in the state. The state health department will then remove all personal information about you (name, address, etc.) and share the remaining non-identifying information with CDC. CDC does not share this information with anyone else, including insurance companies.
For more information, see AIDS.gov’s questions about Civil Rights, Legal Disclosure, Insurance, and the Workplace.
Should I share my positive test results with others?
Whether you share, or disclose, your status to others is your decision.
If you test positive for HIV, your sex or drug-using partners may also be infected. It is important that they know they have been exposed so that they can be tested too.
You can tell them yourself, but if you have been threatened or injured by your partner or if you are nervous about disclosure for any other reason, you can ask your doctor or the local health department to tell them for you. Health departments do not reveal your name to your partners. They will only tell your partners that they have been exposed to HIV and should get tested.
Most states have laws that require you to tell your sex partners if you are HIV-positive before you have sex (anal, vaginal, or oral) or share drugs. You can be charged with a crime in many places if you don't tell—even if your partner doesn't become infected.
Family and friends
In most cases, your family and friends will not know your test results or HIV status unless you tell them yourself. Although telling your family that you have HIV may seem hard, you should know that disclosure actually has many benefits—studies have shown that people who disclose their HIV status respond better to treatment than those who do not.
If you are under age 18, however, some states allow your health care provider to tell your parent(s) that you received services for sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, if they think doing so is in your best interest. For more information, see the Guttmacher Institute's State Policies in Brief: Minors' Access to STI Services.
In most cases, your employer will not know your HIV status unless you tell. But your employer does have a right to ask if you have any health conditions that would affect your ability to do your job or pose a serious risk to others. (An example might be a health care professional, like a surgeon, who does procedures where there is a risk of blood or other body fluids being exchanged.)
If you have health insurance through your employer, the insurance company cannot legally tell your employer that you have HIV. But it is possible that your employer could find out if the insurance company provides detailed information to your employer about the benefits it pays or the costs of insurance.
All people with HIV are covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act. This means that your employer cannot discriminate against you because of your HIV status as long as you can do your job. For more information, see AIDS.gov's Civil Rights.
Who will pay for my HIV test?
Ask your insurer if HIV screening is available without a co-pay, as required by the Affordable Care Act for most health plans. If you do not have medical insurance or your insurance will not pay for an HIV test, there are places where you can get an HIV test at a reduced cost or for free. See "Where can I get tested?" for more information.
Who will pay for my treatment if I am HIV-positive?
If you have insurance, your insurer may pay for treatment. If you do not have insurance, or your insurer will not pay for treatment, government programs, such as Medicaid, Medicare, Ryan White Care Act treatment centers, and community health centers may be able to help if you meet their rules for eligibility (usually low income and/or disability). CDC is working with its federal partners that oversee these programs to make sure that all people who need treatment can get it. Your health care provider or local public health department can direct you to HIV treatment programs.
For more information, see The Affordable Care Act and HIV/AIDS.
Where can I learn more about HIV testing?
Visit these resources:
Where can I learn more about treatment for HIV?
Although there is no cure for HIV infection, treatment options are available. Getting treatment can also help you protect the ones you love. Visit these resources to learn more:
On the go?
Find an HIV testing site near you.
Text your ZIP code to KNOWIT (566948)
or call 800-CDC-INFO (800-232-4636).
Latino gay and bisexual men take action against HIV. We're staying connected and informed. We get tested.