Testing for HIV and AIDS

What is HIV?

Human immunodeficiency (IM-yu-no-dee-FISH-en-see) virus (HIV) is the virus that causes AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). HIV damages the body’s immune system, which protects the body from disease.

How can you get HIV?

  • HIV is spread through direct contact with body fluids (blood, semen, or vaginal fluids) of someone who has HIV. Anyone who has anal, oral, or vaginal sex can get HIV.
  • Sharing needles to inject drugs is another way to get HIV.
  • People with HIV can pass the virus to their sex partners or to someone with whom they share a needle.
  • A pregnant woman with HIV can pass the virus to her baby before or during birth or after birth by breast-feeding.
  • Before 1985, some people got HIV from infected blood transfusions. Now, all blood and medicines made from blood have been tested for HIV. The chance of getting HIV this way is very small.

You cannot get HIV:

  • by donating blood
  • by hugging or sharing food
  • by using telephones, toilet seats, towels, or eating utensils
  • from tears or sweat
  • through the air or water
  • from insect bites

Who is at risk?

It is not who you are, but what you do, that puts you at risk. Anyone who has unprotected sex (anal, vaginal, oral) or shares needles with a person infected with HIV can get HIV. You are at risk for HIV infection if:

  • you are, or ever have been, a sex partner of someone with HIV
  • you are, or ever have been, a sex partner of someone at risk for HIV infection who has had other sexual partners
  • you ever have shared needles to inject drugs, vitamins, or steroids
  • you ever have had unprotected sex with an intravenous (IV) drug user or someone who had a blood or blood product transfusion before 1985
  • you had a blood transfusion or blood product before 1985
  • you ever have had a sexually transmitted disease (STD)
  • you were born to an HIV-infected mother. About 25 to 30 percent of infants born to untreated HIV-infected mothers may also be infected. However, treatment with new therapies can mean much lower infection rates.

What is AIDS?

AIDS occurs when an HIV-infected person’s immune system gets very weak. When this happens, other diseases and infections enter the body. People can have HIV for years without getting sick. They may look and feel healthy. They may not even know they are infected.

Testing for HIV or AIDS

It’s normal to feel very nervous about being tested for HIV. This information will help you know what to expect during the test.

Pre-Test Education

Your Healthcare Provider will give you information about HIV infection, the purpose of the test, how it is done, and what the results mean. The Pennsylvania Confidentiality of HIV Related Information Act, also known as Act 148, protects your test results from being released to unauthorized sources. However, if you test positive we will release those results to the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

After you provide oral consent to be tested, your blood will be tested for antibodies made by the body in response to the HIV infection. This consent is required by Pennsylvania law. It is for your protection. Except in a few rare circumstances (specified in Act 148), no one can perform an HIV test on you in Pennsylvania without obtaining consent.

The HIV Test

The HIV test checks your blood for the presence of HIV antibodies. If the test is positive, further testing is done to confirm the first test result.

In rare cases, people who are infected with HIV will have a negative test result, called a false negative. Some other people who are not infected with HIV will have a positive test result. This is called a false positive. Keep in mind that false negatives and false positives are possible. Because this can happen, your doctor may recommend more testing.

Discussing Test Results

Your Healthcare Provider will tell you how to get your test results.

He or she will be available to discuss what the results mean and will tell you if you should be tested again. Even if the test result is negative, the Healthcare Provider will help you understand ways to protect yourself from HIV. This discussion is known as post-test counseling.

HIV can be prevented.

The only way to avoid getting HIV is to not have sex or use street drugs. However, there are ways to reduce your risk.

  • Have sex only with a partner you are sure has a safe sexual past and does not use street drugs.
  • Use a new latex condom every time you have anal, vaginal, or oral sex. Do not use anything oily with the condom, like Vaseline or hand lotion. These can make a condom tear. If you need a lubricant, use only water-based or glycerin-based products, like K-Y Jelly.
  • You can use a spermicide (a lubricant that is also a birth control cream) along with the condom. The spermicide adds extra protection against HIV and other STDs.
  • If you do use needles, never share them. Clean works by rinsing twice with bleach and twice with water between each use.
  • Be aware that alcohol and other drugs can make people take chances with sex. Some people trade sex for money or drugs. When you get drunk or high, you might forget to use a condom. This increases your chance of getting HIV infection.

Use condoms the right way.

Except for not having sex (abstinence), latex condoms give the best protection from many sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Condoms are helpful only if they are used the right way.

Note: If you or your partner has an allergy to latex, talk with your doctor. Important steps for using condoms correctly:

  1. Use a latex condom every time you have sex.
  2. When using a lubricant, do not use anything oil-based like Vaseline. Use only water-based lubricants like K-Y Jelly.
  3. Always put the condom on before the penis touches or enters the vagina.
  4. After ejaculation, the man should withdraw from the vagina while the penis is still erect. While taking the penis out of the vagina, hold onto the rim of the condom. This will keep it from slipping off.
  5. Pull the condom and the penis out of the vagina together.

Updated December 2012​

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