The Basics: Overview

HIV is the virus that can cause AIDS if it isn’t treated. If you have HIV, getting treatment early can help you live a long, healthy life.

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 years needs to get tested for HIV at least once. All pregnant people 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. 

If you’re a man who has sex with other men, you may need to get tested more often than once a year — like every 3 to 6 months. Talk to your doctor or nurse about what’s right for you. 

And get tested at least once a year if you:

  • Have sex with someone who has HIV
  • Use drugs with needles (not including drugs that a doctor or nurse prescribed for you)
  • Have sex in exchange for things, like drugs or money
  • Have another STD (sexually transmitted disease)

The Basics: HIV

What is HIV?

HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. If HIV isn’t treated, it can cause AIDS. There’s no cure yet for HIV, but there are treatments that can help people live long, healthy lives.

How do people get HIV?

HIV spreads through body fluids, like blood, semen (cum), vaginal fluids, and breast milk. HIV can pass from one person to another through:

  • Sex (vaginal or anal) without a condom with a person who has HIV
  • Sharing needles with someone who has HIV
  • Pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding if the person has HIV

Learn more about HIV and other STDs:

The Basics: HIV Testing

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.

Once you’ve gotten tested for HIV:

  • If you don’t have HIV, you can take steps to make sure you stay HIV-free
  • If you have HIV, you can take steps to have a healthier future — you can also take steps to protect other people
Live longer with HIV by getting treatment early.

If you have HIV, early treatment can help you live a long, healthy life. It’s important to get early treatment for HIV even if you don’t feel sick. The sooner you get care for HIV, the better.

Protect yourself and others.

If you have HIV, you can take steps to protect others, like taking your HIV medicine exactly the way your doctor or nurse tells you to. This can lower the amount of HIV in your body so much that you have an undetectable viral load — meaning a test can’t find any HIV in your body. This is called being virally suppressed

If you have an undetectable viral load, there’s almost no chance you can pass HIV to other people. Learn more about how taking HIV medicine can help you protect others.

If you have HIV and you’re pregnant or thinking about getting pregnant, learn how 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, hospital, clinic, or community testing site — or you can test yourself at home or in another private place. There are different types of HIV tests. Some use a sample of your blood, and some use saliva (spit) from your mouth.

How long does it take to get the test results?

It depends on the type of HIV test you get.

  • Lab test results could take anywhere from a day to more than a week
  • Rapid tests give results in 30 minutes or less
  • Self-tests (tests you can take at home or some other private place) can give results in 20 minutes

If your test shows that you have HIV, 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.

Where can I get an HIV test?

You can get an HIV test at your local health clinic, community HIV testing center, hospital, or health department. Your regular doctor can also test you for HIV. Or you can buy an HIV self-test online or at a pharmacy.

To find an HIV testing center near you:

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 for everyone ages 15 to 65 — and for others who are at higher risk for HIV. The Affordable Care Act also requires insurance plans to cover HIV counseling for women. Depending on your insurance plan, you may be able to get HIV testing and counseling at no cost to you. Check with your insurance company to find out more.

Medicare may also cover HIV screening for certain groups at no cost. If you have Medicare, learn about Medicare coverage for HIV screening.

If you don’t have insurance, you may still be able to get free or low-cost HIV testing. Find a health center near you and ask about HIV testing.

To learn more, check out these resources:

Take Action: Protect Yourself

Take steps to protect yourself from HIV.

Today, there are more options than ever for protecting yourself from HIV — like taking medicine to lower your risk. And the only way to know for sure that you won’t get HIV through sex is to not have sex. Here are some other steps you can take to help protect yourself from getting HIV:

Take medicine to lower your risk of HIV.

If you’re at higher risk for HIV — like if you’re in a relationship with someone who has HIV — you can take a medicine called PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) every day 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