181122 What is HIV? What is AIDS?
HIV is a virus that damages and weakens the body’s immune system — the system your body uses to fight off infection and disease. Having HIV puts a person in danger of experiencing other life-threatening infections and certain cancers.
When the body cannot fight off infections and some other diseases anymore, HIV can lead to a serious illness called AIDS. When someone has AIDS, they are more likely to get infections, and more vulnerable to unusual forms of cancers and other serious diseases. But, with early and uninterrupted treatment, it is possible that a person with HIV will never develop AIDS.
If you think you may have HIV, you should get tested. Everyone age 13 to 64 should be tested at least once for HIV. If you are over 64 and are at risk for HIV, talk with your doctor. Your doctor can help determine how often you should be tested and help find ways to reduce your risk.
There are drugs that, when taken consistently, can help suppress the amount of HIV in your blood to undetectable levels, improving your health overall and making it harder to pass HIV on to your sexual partners. To get the best results, it is important to start treatment as soon as possible. If you are unsure about your HIV status, get tested. Always protect yourself and your partners when having sex or using needles.
How do I get tested for HIV?
A small blood sample, mouth swab, or urine sample is used to test people for HIV. It can take as long as three to six months after initial exposure for the signs of the virus to show up in your blood, and years before you show any symptoms.
You can be tested at a doctor’s office, hospital, community health center, or other health clinic. Some places have mobile testing vans. AIDS services organizations also may provide testing. At-home testing kits are also available.
Depending on where you go, testing may be free. You may be able to choose to take the test without giving your name. Many providers or groups that offer HIV testing also provide counseling.
If you choose to take a test at home, make sure to use a test that has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). If the test has not been approved by the FDA, it may not give accurate results. Home tests are sold at drugstores and online. Follow up with your doctor to confirm the results of at-home tests and, if necessary, begin treatment.
Where can I find a place to get tested for HIV?
Your doctor or other health care provider can test you for HIV or tell you where you can get tested. Or, the following resources can help you find a testing location:
- HIV testing and care locator
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or call 800-232-4636
- Your local health department
Drugstores also sell home testing kits (such as the Home Access™ HIV-1 Test System or the OraQuick® In-Home HIV Test).