HIV Testing Is Routine Preventive Care

Testing for HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is considered a routine part of preventive care at Group Health. Everyone should be tested at least once.

HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that attacks the body's immune system. This virus can cause AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome).

How Is HIV spread?

HIV spreads from one person to another in the following ways:

What Is the HIV Test?

The HIV test is a lab test that looks to see if you have signs of HIV infection in your blood. A positive HIV test does not mean you have AIDS.

How Can Getting Tested Help Me?

Many people don't know they are infected
Getting tested is an important tool to let people know if they're infected with HIV.

HIV is a serious health problem that affects more than a million people in the United States. Since it can take up to 10 years for symptoms of the virus to show up, people can be infected with HIV for many years and not know it.

In Washington state, there are about 12,000 people living with HIV. Many of these people have not been tested and don't know they are infected. These people can pass the virus on to others.

Early testing can lead to earlier treatment
Left untreated, HIV infection can cause serious health problems. Almost all patients with untreated HIV infection eventually develop AIDS. Early diagnosis allows people to begin a treatment plan to help them stay healthier and delay or prevent complications caused by AIDS.

Antiretroviral therapy (ART) is an effective treatment that can help people with HIV live longer, healthier lives and lower the chance of passing the disease to others. The sooner treatment is started, the more effective it is in preventing complications caused by the virus.

Testing helps you to make important decisions

Who Should Get Tested?

We recommend that the following people get tested for HIV as part of their routine preventive care:

How Often Should Everyone Be Tested?

What Puts a Person at Risk?

The following people are at a higher risk of being infected with HIV:

Any person who has any of the following risk factors, or has sexual partners who have:

I'm Not at Risk. Why Should I Be Tested?

National health experts agree that everyone aged 15 through 64 should have a one-time HIV test regardless of risk. This is because some people who have tested positive for HIV were not aware of their risk. That's why we recommend that HIV testing become a routine part of care for our patients.

Even if you've been in a long-term relationship with one person, you should find out for sure whether you or your partner has HIV. If you and your partner are both HIV-negative and both stay faithful (monogamous) and do not have other risks for HIV infection, then you probably won't need another HIV test unless your situation changes.

What Do HIV Test Results Mean?

A negative test result means that you don’t show signs of HIV infection. If you've been practicing safe behaviors in the 6 months before the test, you probably don't have HIV.

A negative test result doesn't mean you can't get HIV. You still need to protect yourself by using a condom every time you have sex and not sharing needles.

Not doing these things can put you at risk for HIV in the future. If you've had risky behaviors (such as sex without a condom, or sharing needles or works for drug use) in the last three months, you should be tested again even if your test result is negative.

A positive test result means you have HIV. This doesn't mean that you have AIDS. New treatments can help keep you healthy. We urge you to see your health care provider as soon as possible to talk about treatment.

A person with HIV has it for life. You can pass HIV to others by having unprotected sex or by sharing drug needles or works. If you're pregnant or breastfeeding you can pass HIV to your baby. Don't donate blood, plasma, semen, body organs, or other tissue if you have HIV.

What Are the Risks of Being Tested?

You might feel stressed, anxious, or depressed. Your health care provider can help you find the support you need to deal with these feelings.

If your test is positive, you might not be able to get some types of life insurance. You might face illegal discrimination. If your test is positive and your job requires you to perform surgery or health care procedures that pose a risk of passing HIV to others, you might need to discuss your HIV status with your supervisors.

Who Will Find Out My Test Results?

By law, HIV test results are kept confidential. Your health care provider will give you your test results as soon as they're available. Talk to your provider about the best way to get your test results to you.

Group Health won't release your test results to anyone else without your written permission, except when it's required by law, such as public health disease reports.

Anonymous testing is offered at local public health departments and community agencies (such as Planned Parenthood) in Washington. Anonymous testing isn't required by law in Idaho but may be available. Contact your local health department for testing options.

Anonymous testing means the clinic uses a code on your record and never uses your name, address, phone number, or other information that can identify you.

If you do an anonymous test and your test is positive, please tell your health care provider as soon as possible so that you can talk with them about follow-up care. If you do tell your health care provider, your HIV care will be noted in your medical record and your HIV status will be reported to the health department.

Partner Notification

If your HIV test is positive, anyone you've had sex with or shared needles or other equipment for drug use with might also get HIV. They should be told they have been exposed to HIV and advised to seek HIV counseling and testing. You can tell them yourself, or ask for help from your health care provider or the local health department.

When to Call Your Provider

Call your health care provider immediately if:

Talk with your provider if you have symptoms common with HIV/AIDS such as:

Talk with your health care provider if you have any other symptoms that won't go away, seem unusual, or concern you.


Clinical review by Kathy Brown, MD
Group Health
Reviewed 12/11/2013