Getting an HIV Test: Who Should Get Tested?

Find out how often you should get tested, based on your individual risk.

Prevention efforts for HIV (or human immunodeficiency virus) have helped to significantly reduce the rate of HIV and AIDS in the United States. While PrEP and PEP are medications that can drastically drop your risk level, it’s important to remember the other key component in preventing HIV: getting tested. 

Getting an HIV test has numerous benefits. “The sooner you find out your status [of] HIV-negative, one, it’s gonna take away a lot of that anxiety. Two, it will help you get educated,” says Jeffrey Laurence, MD, hematologist at Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian. “You’re going to get counseling in the process of obtaining that test.”

And of course, it’s possible that your HIV test may reveal that you are HIV-positive. It can be emotionally challenging to learn this info, but the sooner you know, the better. This way, your doctor can immediately introduce the crucial HIV treatments that can help you live a long and normal life.

Knowing your HIV status can also help prevent you from unknowingly spreading the virus to a loved one. About 40 percent of newly diagnosed HIV infections are transmitted by someone who didn’t know they were HIV-positive, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Who Should Get Tested?

“The [CDC] has said that everyone between the ages of 16 and 65 should get tested at least once in their lifetimes for HIV,” says Dr. Laurence.

That said, individuals who are at a high risk of HIV should get tested at least annually, according to the CDC. Those at a high risk for HIV include:

  • Injection-drug users, or their sexual partners

  • Sexual partners of an HIV-positive person

  • Men who have sex with other men

There are a couple other scenarios that may make an HIV test appropriate. All pregnant women should get an HIV test, since HIV can be spread from mother to baby. Healthcare workers exposed to used needles also benefit from an HIV test.

Finally, HIV testing is recommended to anyone beginning treatment for tuberculosis, chlamydia, syphilis, gonorrhea, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C. These infections are “friends of HIV” since they can be transmitted in the same way as HIV, and/or HIV makes the body more likely to get infected with these diseases.

Before your test, find out how HIV tests work here.

Jeffrey Laurence, MD

This video features Jeffrey Laurence, MD. Dr. Laurence is a hematologist and professor of medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital. He is the senior scientific consultant for programs at amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research.

Duration: 2:55. Last Updated On: Jan. 2, 2020, 6:32 p.m.
Reviewed by: Holly Atkinson, MD, Mera Goodman, MD, Preeti Parikh, MD . Review date: Aug. 7, 2017
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