I'm thinking about getting tested for HIV
It’s great that you’re thinking about getting tested for HIV. Getting an HIV antibody test is the only way to know if you have HIV or not. Here are some questions you might have about getting tested:
Who should get an HIV test, anyway?
Almost everyone should think about getting an HIV test at least once. If you’ve had sex or injected drugs, you may be at risk and it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor about whether or not an HIV test is right for you. Some people may need testing more often. If you are at high risk for HIV (like if you inject drugs, have sex with multiple partners, are a man who has sex with other men, or you know that your partner has HIV) you should get a test at least once a year. Pregnant women should get an HIV test with every pregnancy. That’s because there are ways to prevent your baby from getting HIV. So it’s very important for HIV+ pregnant women to get regular medical care with a doctor who has experience treating people with HIV.
I think I might be at risk for HIV. Should I go get a test now?
If you think you were at risk you need to wait at least six weeks after the last time you had unprotected sex or shared a needle before getting tested. This is because the test is looking for HIV antibodies (your body naturally produces antibodies in order to fight off germs) and it takes six weeks for body to produce enough of them to show up on a test. This is also known as the “window period.” Talk to your doctor or HIV test counselor about the right time for you to get tested.
Who will know I took an HIV test?
HIV testing is confidential. That means that your doctor, clinic, or testing site will have your information on file, but that information stays private unless you sign forms allowing them to give your information or test results to someone else (like a doctor or counselor).There are also a few testing sites that provide anonymous HIV tests. That means you do not provide your name; the testing site will give you a number or code that you can use to get your results.
Do I need my parent’s permission to get tested?
If you’re over 13 years old then you don’t need your parents’ consent to get tested. However, if you want help talking to your parents about HIV testing, email or call the Sexual Health Helpline at (877) MA-SEX-ED (877) 627-3933.
Where can I get tested?
You can get tested through your primary care doctor, at some family planning clinics, or at an HIV testing site. STD 411, a site I use a lot for STD info has a great list of HIV testing sites in Massachusetts. You can also send a text to “KNOW IT” (566948) or go to www.hivtest.org for test sites anywhere in the US. As always, you can send an email or call the Sexual Health Helpline at (877) MA-SEX-ED (877) 627-3933.
What are the different types of tests?
There are three basic types of HIV tests: standard blood tests, standard oral swab tests, and rapid tests. The tests can use different samples:some use blood from a vein in your arm, some use a drop of blood from pricking your finger, and some tests use a swab to collect a sample of fluid from your mouth. Standard tests have to be sent off to a laboratory, so you will have to come back for your test results in 1-2 weeks. Rapid tests are done right away, so negative results are usually available in 10-20 minutes, but additional testing is needed if the test gets a reaction.
Standard Blood Test The most common form of HIV antibody test is a blood test that is sent to a lab. A health care provider or test counselor will use a needle to take blood from your arm. It can take about 1-2 weeks to get the results of that test. Usually, you have to go back to the place where you got the test to get the final result.
Standard Oral Swab Test This is a test that uses a sample of fluid collected from your mouth and sends it to a lab for testing. You use a tool that looks like a toothbrush and place it between your cheek and gum for a few minutes, and then a health care provider or test counselor will put the pad in a special tube and mail it to a lab.Like a standard blood test, it can take about 1-2 weeks to get the results. Usually, you have to go back to the place where you got the test to get the final result.
Rapid HIV Test Rapid HIV tests can use either a drop of blood from your finger or fluid from your mouth. To use the oral swab test, you wipe an absorbent pad over your upper and lower gums. No matter what sample is used, rapid HIV tests are different from standard tests because a negative result usually comes back right away — it only takes about 10-20 minutes for the test to finish. If the rapid result is negative, no further tests are needed unless you didn’t wait six weeks from the last risk. If the test gets a reaction, though, rapid results have to be checked by a confirmation blood test. Like standard tests, it may take about 1-2 weeks to get the results of the second test.
Where can I get support if I need more information or someone to talk to about HIV?
It’s a great idea to talk all this stuff over with someone! If you have an adult that you trust, that is a great place to start. You can also ask your doctor about HIV if you have one that you’re comfortable with. The counselors at family planning clinics (search clinics in your area) know a lot about HIV and other STIs and can definitely help you out, even if you just need some help talking to your partner or your parents. You can also check out the “help on the web” section for help finding other places you can get support, like HIV testing sites, AIDS service organizations, and community health centers. And if you just want to talk to a counselor privately, email or call the Sexual Health Helpline at (877) MA-SEX-ED (877) 627-3933.