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What you need to know about HIV test results

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Answers to questions about HIV testing.

If you've taken a test to find out whether you are infected with HIV, you may have some questions about what the results mean and what you need to do to follow up.

Here, you'll find answers to common questions about HIV test results, courtesy of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and HIVinfo.

Q: If I take an HIV test and the results come back positive, does that mean I have AIDS?

A: A positive HIV test result means you are infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. It doesn't necessarily mean that you have AIDS right now, but it does mean you will carry HIV in your body for the rest of your life. Over time, HIV can damage a person's immune system and lead to AIDS.

Q: Do HIV screening tests need to be confirmed?

A: All initial screening tests that come back with a positive result need to be confirmed with an additional test before a diagnosis of HIV infection can be made.

Q: If I test negative for HIV, does that mean my partner is HIV negative as well?

A: No. Your HIV test result only tells you what your HIV status is. It does not reveal your partner's HIV status. The only way for your partner to know whether he or she is infected with HIV is to be tested.

Remember that HIV can be transmitted through unprotected sex even if the infected person feels fine and has no symptoms of illness.

Q: What should I do if I test positive for HIV?

A: There are several things you can do right away to help protect your health:

  • See a doctor. It is important to do this soon, even if you do not feel sick. Try to find a doctor who has experience in treating HIV. Early medical care may help delay the onset of AIDS and stave off some life-threatening conditions. Many drugs are available to treat HIV infection and AIDS-related illnesses.
  • Get tested for TB (tuberculosis). You could be infected with TB and not know it. Undetected TB can cause serious illness; but if caught early, it can be successfully treated.
  • Be aware that cigarettes, alcohol and illegal drugs (such as cocaine) can weaken your immune system.
  • Get tested for other sexually transmitted infections. These infections can cause serious health problems if they're not treated.

Q: I've just tested positive for HIV. Where can I go for information or support?

A: Counselors may be available at clinics, hospitals and other locations where HIV tests are done. 

Reviewed 9/25/2023

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