The Basics: Overview
The only way to know if you have HIV is to get tested. You could have HIV and still feel healthy.
How often do I need to get tested for HIV?
Everyone ages 15 to 65 needs to get tested for HIV at least once. All pregnant women also need to get tested. People at higher risk for HIV infection may need to get tested more often. Talk to your doctor or nurse about how often you need to get tested.
Get tested for HIV at least once a year if you're at higher risk.
For example, you may be at higher risk for HIV if you:
- Are a man who has sex with men
- Have sex with someone who has HIV
- Use drugs with needles
- Have sex in exchange for drugs or money
- Have had 1 or more new sex partners who could have HIV since your last test
If you're a man who has sex with men, you may need to get tested even more often – like every 3 to 6 months. Talk to your doctor or nurse about what's best for you.
The Basics: What is HIV?
What is HIV?
HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus – the virus that causes AIDS. There's no cure yet for HIV/AIDS, but there are treatments that can help people live longer, healthier lives.
How do people get HIV?
HIV spreads through body fluids, like blood, semen (cum), vaginal fluids, and breast milk. For example, HIV can be passed from one person to another by:
- Having sex (vaginal or anal) without a condom with a person who has HIV
- Sharing needles with someone who has HIV
- Breastfeeding, pregnancy, or childbirth if the mother has HIV
Learn more about HIV/AIDS:
The Basics: Why Get Tested?
Why do I need to get tested for HIV?
The only way to know if you have HIV is to get tested. Many people with HIV don’t have any symptoms. In the United States, about 1 in 7 people who have HIV don't know they have it.
Even if you don’t feel sick, getting early treatment for HIV is important.
- If you don’t have HIV (you're HIV-negative), you can take steps to make sure you stay HIV-free.
- If you have HIV (you're HIV-positive), you can take steps to have a healthier future. You can also take steps to protect other people.
Live longer with HIV.
If you have HIV, early treatment can help you live a longer, healthier life. The sooner you get care for HIV, the better.
- Find out about treatment options for HIV.
- Get information about staying healthy with HIV.
- Use this tool to find services for people with HIV or AIDS, like housing assistance, health centers, and counseling.
Protect yourself and others.
If you have HIV and you're pregnant or thinking about getting pregnant, you can get treatment to prevent passing HIV to your baby.
The Basics: Testing Options
How can I get tested for HIV?
You can get an HIV test at a doctor's office or clinic – or you can test yourself at home. There are different types of HIV tests. Some use a sample of your blood and some use saliva (spit).
How long does it take to get the test results?
It depends on the type of HIV test you get.
- Lab tests take from a few days to 2 weeks to give results.
- Rapid tests give results in 30 minutes or less.
- Home test results can be ready in 20 minutes or by the next business day.
If you test positive, you'll need a second HIV test to be sure. Find out more about the different types of HIV tests.
What’s the difference between confidential and anonymous testing?
When you get tested at a doctor’s office or clinic, your test results are confidential. This means they can only be shared with people allowed to see your medical records.
If you're worried about giving your name, you can get an anonymous HIV test at some clinics. This means that you don’t have to give your name. Learn more about confidential and anonymous HIV testing.
Take Action: Get Tested
Take these steps to protect yourself and others from HIV.
Find a place to get tested.
You can get an HIV test at your local health clinic, HIV testing center, hospital, or health department. Your regular doctor can also test you for HIV.
To find an HIV testing center near you:
- Enter your ZIP code to find local testing sites.
- Call 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636).
- Use this online form to email CDC-INFO.
If you want to know more about HIV testing and prevention, take this list of questions to your appointment.
What about cost?
Free HIV testing is available at some testing centers and health clinics.
Under the Affordable Care Act, insurance plans must cover HIV testing. HIV counseling is covered for women who are sexually active. Talk to your insurance company to find out more.
To learn about other services covered by the Affordable Care Act, visit HealthCare.gov.
Take Action: Protect Yourself
Protect yourself from HIV.
The best way to protect yourself from HIV is to not have sex unless you're in a relationship with only one person and you have both tested negative.
Here are other steps you can take to help prevent HIV:
- Use a latex condom with water-based lubricant every time you have vaginal or anal sex.
- If you share sex toys with your partner, use a condom and clean them between each use.
- Don’t inject drugs or share needles.
Take medicine to lower your risk of HIV.
If you have risk factors for HIV – like being in a relationship with someone who's HIV-positive – you can take a daily medicine called PrEP to lower your risk of getting HIV. Talk with your doctor about your risk and ask if PrEP is right for you. Learn more about PrEP.
Take Action: Talk about It
Talk with your partner about getting tested.
It’s important to make time to talk before having sex. Ask your partner to get tested for HIV and other STDs – or offer to get tested together.
Use these tips to start the conversation:
Get counseling about HIV prevention.
If you want more information about preventing HIV, ask your local testing center if they offer prevention counseling. You may want counseling if:
- You're worried about getting HIV
- You're interested in taking PrEP to reduce your risk of HIV
- You have HIV and are worried about giving it to someone else
Content last updated October 15, 2020
This information on HIV was adapted from materials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute on Allergy and Infectious Disease.
Associate Director for Science
Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention
National Center for HIV/AID, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention