HIV Testing FAQs
Why Get Tested?
Get an HIV test. A positive test is an opportunity to treat HIV, stay healthy, prevent HIV transmission and stay undetectable. A negative test offers an opportunity to discuss ways to stay negative, like using condoms and/or taking PrEP daily.
How Serious is the Problem?
Houston/Harris County recently ranked highest for new HIV diagnoses among all counties in Texas. That’s according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in its 2014 report, which also revealed Texas ranked third for the highest new diagnoses in the U.S. An estimated 1.2 million individuals in the United States are living with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) — the virus that causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). Approximately 40,000 new HIV infections occur each year in the United States. One fourth of the individuals living with HIV are unaware that they have the virus.
HIV transmission cannot be eliminated if individuals do not know their HIV status (i.e., whether they are HIV positive or HIV negative). An HIV test is the only way to determine if a person is living with the virus. Once an individual knows s/he is living with HIV, safer behaviors may be practiced to reduce or eliminate the likelihood of transmission. To learn more about the importance of HIV testing click here .
What does “undetectable” mean?
“Undetectable” means that the level of HIV in a person’s blood is so low that it doesn’t show up on a viral load test. If a person is undetectable, HIV can still be hiding in their body, but the amount is so low that HIV cannot be passed to others through sex.
Medicines to treat HIV can eliminate the risk of sexual transmission. In August 2016, the New York City (NYC) Health Department agreed with other public health and medical organizations that people with HIV who maintain an undetectable viral load for at least six months do not transmit HIV through sex. In September 2017, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the New York State Department of Health agreed with this finding, which is known as “Undetectable = Untransmittable,” or “U = U.” The Houston Health Department signed onto the “U=U” campaign in 2017.
How do I get my viral load to be undetectable?
If you have HIV, take anti-retroviral medicines as prescribed by your health care provider. After you start your medicine, your provider will take blood samples to determine when the level of HIV virus in your blood has become undetectable. Once you have been undetectable for six months, you will not be able to sexually transmit HIV as long as you take your anti-retroviral medicines and keep your viral load undetectable.
What if my viral load is not undetectable? Viral load does not equal value.
People living with HIV are more than just their lab results, and value isn’t dictated by viral load. No one living with HIV is a danger. If you are living with HIV and you have a detectable viral load, there are highly effective HIV prevention options for safer sex including condoms, and in some parts of the world, PrEP or your HIV-negative partners, which can be used individually or in combination. Everyone living with HIV regardless of viral load can have full and healthy social, sexual, and reproductive lives.
How do I get tested?
If you think you have been exposed to HIV, please find a place to test right away. It may be appropriate for you to start medication immediately. A trained test counselor will help assess your risk and figure out the right time and type of test to use.
The time it takes for a person who has been infected with HIV to show a positive test result (also known as seroconverting) is called the “window period.” There are different types of HIV tests. When the presence of HIV or the HIV antibody is detected depends on the testing mechanism being used. Ask your local HIV clinic or medical association what type of test they are offering — they will be able to give you more information about how long it might take for a person with HIV to test positive with the test they are using.