amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research

Are You Positive You’re Negative?

[Myths] and [Truths] About HIV Testing

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), roughly twenty percent of the almost 1.2 million Americans who are HIV positive do not know they are infected. This means that many are transmitting the virus to others without knowing it. If there’s even a slim chance that you may have been exposed to HIV, don’t wait. Get tested.







Twenty percent of people in the U.S. who are HIV positive do not know it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This represents nearly 250,000 people. Moreover, it is estimated that the majority of new HIV infections are passed on by people who don’t know that they themselves are infected. Anyone who has had unprotected sex with someone who is HIV positive (or of unknown status), shared a needle (for piercings, tattoos, or drugs), or had other body fluid to blood contact is at risk for HIV infection...and for spreading the disease to others.


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myth 2a

The HIV epidemic continues to rage in the U.S. Approximately 50,000 Americans are newly infected every year— that’s an average of about 140 new infections every single day. More than a million Americans are living with HIV/AIDS. What’s more shocking is that, over 30 years into the epidemic, one-third of Americans harbor misconceptions about HIV transmission, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.


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myth 3

Even if a partner looks healthy, it is important to know his or her HIV status.


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 myth 4

Do you really know the intimate history of all your past partners? If you are HIV negative, being in a monogamous, long-term relationship with another HIV-negative person virtually eliminates the risk of contracting HIV. But unless you both get tested, there’s no guarantee that either of you is HIV-free.


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Routine blood tests—or pap tests that are part of routine gynecological exams—do not automatically include a test for HIV. Asking for an “STD test” also will not include an HIV test unless you ask for it specifically and give consent. The CDC, amfAR, and other leading voices say they should. The CDC has issued guidelines recommending that HIV testing occur during all routine medical examinations, but not all states have implemented the new guidelines. Right now, your doctor has to ask if you would be willing to be tested for HIV.

Or you can take control and say you want it done. It’s your life, your health. Go for it.


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HIV tests can only be done with the consent or at the request of the patient. A few states require written consent; for most, verbal consent is sufficient (visit for the requirements in your state). Based on the new CDC guidelines, you would still be informed that your blood was being tested, but you would be able to refuse the test if you wanted to.


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People over 50 are one of the fastest growing segments of the population with HIV infection, representing 17 percent of new cases according to the CDC. This has something to do with the “Viagra effect” and even more to do with a host of cultural factors and false assumptions about the sexual activity of older adults. Actual HIV infection rates among older Americans are hard to know as a result of routine misdiagnosis, under-reporting, and lack of testing. In other words, HIV testing is not just for the young.


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Nearly all donated blood is tested for HIV. But not all donors who test positive are told. While it has become standard protocol for blood banks to test each and every donation for HIV, there is no legal mandate to automatically inform individual donors of positive results.


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Under current protocols, an HIV test is done only if requested or agreed to by the mother-to-be. Yet all expectant women should be tested as early in pregnancy as possible. According to the CDC, with proper medical treatment, the chance of an infected mother passing HIV to her baby during pregnancy and birth is less than one percent.


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HIV testing is still not a standard protocol for surgeries and other major medical procedures, whether scheduled or in emergency rooms.


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It can take a few weeks or even months for HIV antibodies to reach detectable levels. And every time there’s even a slight chance you’ve risked exposure, you need another test.


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Today, you can buy a rapid oral HIV test over the counter at most pharmacies. You simply swab the inside of your mouth and it provides results in 20 to 40 minutes. If you do test positive, you should see your doctor and get a blood test to ensure the result is accurate. Also, many clinics around the country administer these rapid HIV tests free of charge and have professionals on hand to provide counseling and referrals to any health care services you may need.


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Living and living well with HIV requires that you work closely with a healthcare provider to monitor the effects the virus is having on your body. Many HIV-positive people with access to proper treatment and medical care have the same life expectancy as non-HIV-positive people. Plus, getting tested and on HIV medication as soon as possible after infection reduces the damage the virus can do to your immune system and helps ensure a long, healthy life. Getting on HIV treatment and controlling the virus also dramatically reduces the chances of passing HIV on to a partner.

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Get tested. You need to know your status.

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amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research

CDC National AIDS Hotline:


CDC database of testing sites

Kaiser Family Foundation fact sheet: HIV testing in the US

Kaiser Family Foundation survey report: American public opinion on HIV testing

CDC revised recommendations for HIV testing Guide to HIV testing

The Body: HIV testing information, news, and research


U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Kaiser Family Foundation