First rule: If you’re even debating whether to get an HIV test, you should probably get an HIV test. That’s the advice from hematologist Jeffrey Laurence, MD, of Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City. HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus, weakens the immune system in stages, so early detection is critical. The sooner you learn your HIV status—whether positive or negative—the sooner you can take the next steps to get proper treatment (if you’re positive) or avoid getting HIV in the future (if you’re negative).
Even if your HIV test is negative, you will benefit from taking the HIV test because you can get the education and counseling you need to prevent HIV exposure in the future. You might be a good candidate for pre-exposure prophylaxis, for example. Not only that, but you’ll also unload any anxiety you may have of not knowing your HIV status.
The CDC recommends that everyone between the ages of 13 and 64—regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation—should be tested at least once in their lifetime for HIV. Even if you are in a monogamous relationship or do not engage in high-risk behaviors for HIV, it’s crucial to know your HIV status. After all, 30 percent of new HIV infections come from exposure to someone who didn’t know they were HIV-positive, according to the CDC.
If you engage in any high-risk behavior, you should get tested at least once per year. High-risk behavior for HIV includes having sex with multiple or unknown partners, having sex between two men, having sex with a partner who is HIV-positive, or sharing needles.
You should also get tested if you experience any possible symptoms of an HIV infection. These typically resemble the flu and can last several weeks shortly after you’re first exposed to HIV.
Finally, you also need to consider the infections that Dr. Laurence calls “friends of HIV.” These are infections that are commonly associated with HIV because they’re often contracted through the same methods (blood and other bodily fluids, like semen and vaginal fluids). If you find out you’ve been infected with hepatitis C, hepatitis B, gonorrhea, syphilis, or chlamydia, you should get tested for HIV as well.
If you’re considering getting tested for HIV, here’s what you need to know about the types of HIV tests you could get.