- HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. HIV is a virus that breaks down certain cells in your immune system. HIV is the virus that causes AIDS.
- If you have insurance, you can likely get an HIV test at your doctor's office, hospitals, urgent care clinics, or health clinics.
- Without insurance, you can get tested through Mira for $50. At Planned Parenthood, the cost for HIV testing depends on your income.
What is HIV & AIDS?
HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. HIV is a virus that breaks down certain cells in your immune system (your body’s defense against diseases that helps you stay healthy).
When HIV damages your immune system, it’s easier for you to get very sick and even die from infections that your body could normally fight off.
Once you have HIV, the virus always stays in your body. There’s no cure for HIV, but medicines can be used to stay healthy and reduce the risk of infections.
Medications for HIV lowers or even completely diminishes the risk of spreading the virus to other people. Studies show that if HIV treatment is used as directed, it can lower the amount of HIV in a person's blood so much that it might not even show up on a test — in this case, they can’t transmit HIV through sex.
How is AIDS different than HIV?
HIV is the virus that causes AIDS. AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. They are not the same thing, and a person with HIV does not necessarily have AIDS.
HIV is transmitted from person to person. Once infected, over time, HIV will destroy an important kind of cell in a person's immune system (called CD4 cells or T cells) that helps protect them from infections.
When a person doesn't have enough of the CD4 cells, their body is unable to off infections the way it normally can.
Once the immune system is damaged from HIV, it's possible to develop AIDS. If you get dangerous infections or have a very low number of CD4 cells, you will most likely develop AIDS.
AIDS is the most serious stage of HIV, and it would lead to death over time.
It's important to get tested and seek treatment- without treatment, it usually takes about 10 years for someone with HIV to develop AIDS. Treatment helps to slow down the damage the virus causes in the body and can help people stay healthy for several decades.
What are the symptoms of HIV & AIDS?
There are three stages of infection of HIV. Each stage has a different set of symptoms individuals may experience:
Stage 1: Acute HIV Infection
This is within 2 to 4 weeks after infection with HIV, about two-thirds of people will have a flu-like illness. This is the body’s natural response to HIV infection.
Flu-like symptoms that can occur may include:
- Night sweats
- Muscle aches
- Sore throat
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Mouth ulcers
These symptoms can last anywhere from a few days to several weeks. However, it's possible to not have any symptoms at all during this early stage of HIV.
Stage 2: Clinical Latency
In this stage, the virus multiplies at very low levels. People in this stage may not feel sick or have any symptoms. This stage is also called chronic HIV infection.
If not receiving HIV treatment, it's possible people can stay in this stage for 10 or 15 years, but it's possible to move through this stage faster.
If you're taking HIV medicine every day, exactly as prescribed, as well as getting and keeping an undetectable viral load, individuals can protect their health and protect others, by not transmitting the virus.
However, if a viral load is detectable, it's possible to transmit HIV during this stage, even if you're not experiencing any symptoms.
Stage 3: AIDS
If a person has HIV and is not on HIV treatment, eventually the virus will weaken their body’s immune system and will progress to AIDS. This is the late stage of HIV infection.
Symptoms of AIDS can include:
- Rapid weight loss
- Recurring fever or profuse night sweats
- Extreme and unexplained tiredness
- Prolonged swelling of the lymph glands in the armpits, groin, or neck
- Diarrhea that lasts for more than a week
- Sores of the mouth, anus, or genitals
- Red, brown, pink, or purplish blotches on or under the skin or inside the mouth, nose, or eyelids
- Memory loss, depression, and other neurologic disorders
Please note that each of these symptoms can also be related to other illnesses. The only way to know for sure if you have HIV is to get tested. If you do test HIV-positive, a health care provider will diagnose if your HIV has progressed to stage 3 (AIDS) based on certain medical criteria.
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Should I get tested for HIV?
The Centers For Disease Control recommends everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 get tested for HIV at least once. Some people at higher risk should get tested more often.
If your last HIV test result was negative, you should get an HIV test if you answer "yes" to any of the questions below, you might be a person of higher risk for HIV:
- Are you a man who has had sex with another man?
- Have you had sex whether anal or vaginal, with an HIV-positive partner?
- Have you had more than one sexual partner?
- Have you shared needles with others?
- Have you exchanged sex for drugs or money?
- Have you been diagnosed with, or sought treatment for, another sexually transmitted disease?
- Have you been diagnosed with or treated for hepatitis or tuberculosis (TB)?
- Have you had sex with someone who could answer "yes" to any of the above questions or someone whose sexual history you don't know?
Sexually active gay and bisexual men may want to consider more frequent testing (for example, every 3 to 6 months).
If you're pregnant, talk to your health care provider about getting tested for HIV and other ways to protect you and your child from getting HIV.
Anyone who has been sexually assaulted or has had a high-risk exposure to HIV should consider taking post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) and getting an HIV antigen test that can detect infection sooner than standard antibody testing. PEP may prevent HIV infection after possible exposure to HIV if it is started as soon as possible within 3 days after exposure to HIV.
What type of HIV tests are there?
There are several different HIV tests:
- A NAT looks for the actual virus in the blood and involves drawing blood from a vein. This test can do both, determine if a person has HIV or tell how much of the virus is present in the blood (this is known as the HIV viral load test). A NAT can detect HIV sooner than other types of tests; however, this type of test is costly and not routinely used for screening individuals unless they recently had a high-risk exposure or a possible exposure and have early symptoms of HIV infection.
- An antigen or antibody test looks for both HIV antibodies and antigens. Antibodies are produced by your immune system when the person is exposed to viruses such as HIV. Antigens are foreign substances that would cause your immune system to activate and fight off the infection. Antigen or antibody tests are recommended for testing done in labs and are now common in the United States. This lab test involves drawing blood from a vein. This is also available through rapid testing and it's done with a finger prick.
No HIV test can detect HIV immediately after infection. If you think you’ve been exposed to HIV in the last 72 hours, talk to your health care provider about post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP), right away.
At-Home HIV Tests
Some HIV tests can be done at home:
- Rapid self-testing is done entirely at home or in a private location and can produce results for HIV within 20 minutes. Rapid self-test kits are available for purchase at a pharmacy or online. The only rapid self-test currently available in the US is an oral fluid test.
- Mail-in self-tests include a specimen collection kit that contains supplies to collect dried blood from a fingerstick at home. The sample is then sent to a lab for testing and a healthcare provider analyses the results. Mail-in self-tests can be ordered through various online merchant sites. Inquire with your health care provider to see if they can order a mail-in self-test for you.
Where & how do I get tested for HIV?
Under the Affordable Care Act, nobody can be denied health insurance due to a pre-existing condition.
Most health insurance plans must cover certain recommended preventive services. This includes HIV testing for everyone between the ages 15 and 65, and for people of other ages at increased risk without additional cost-sharing, such as copays or deductibles.
If you have insurance, you can likely get an HIV test at the following locations with your co-pay:
- Local health clinic
- Urgent care centers
- Primary care doctor
If you don't have insurance, you can become a Mira member and get an STD test (this includes HIV testing) for just $50- results are private and fast.
There are other options for HIV testing if you don't have insurance.
- Health clinics or community health centers
- STD or sexual health clinics
- Your local health department
- Family planning clinics
- VA medical centers
- Substance abuse prevention or treatment programs
Where can I get tested for HIV?
One way to prevent HIV is by using pre-exposure prophylaxis (or PrEP). PrEP is a daily pill for individuals who do not currently HIV but are at very high risk of getting HIV to prevent HIV infection. PrEP is one of the best ways to prevent being infected with HIV.
Truvada is the prescription medication for PrEP.
PrEP may be a good option for you if:
- You're in an active and ongoing sexual relationship with a partner living with HIV who does not have an undetectable viral load.
- You're a gay or bisexual man who has multiple sexual partners and you don't always use condoms or protection.
- You're a gay or bisexual man in a sexual relationship but not yet aware of your partner's HIV status and don't always use condoms.
- You're not using condoms with partners of the opposite sex whose HIV status is unknown and who are at high risk of HIV infection (for example, they inject drugs, have multiple partners, or have bisexual male partners)
- You have sex for money, or receive gifts for sex
- You've shared injecting equipment or have been in a treatment program for injecting drug use.
Other methods for preventing HIV include:
- Using condoms. Male latex condoms are the most effective way to prevent HIV as well as other STIs when you having sex.
- Getting tested. Ensure that you and your partner are tested for HIV and other STIs.
- Being monogamous.
- Limiting your number of sexual partners.
How much does HIV testing cost?
Your local health department may offer free testing, or if you're a student, your college or university health center may have free HIV testing.
Low and no-cost tests are often available from Planned Parenthood health centers and many doctor's offices, hospitals, and health clinics.
At Planned Parenthood, the cost for HIV testing depends on your income. If you go to Planned Parenthood for HIV testing, you will have to fill out paperwork to determine the cost.
With Mira, your STD test that includes HIV testing would cost $50, with no surprise fees, and a free consultation with a doctor if positive. Learn more here.
How is HIV & AIDS treated?
HIV is treated with a medication called antiretroviral therapy (ART). ART involves taking a combination of HIV medicines (called an HIV treatment regimen) every day.
It's recommended everyone with HIV take ART.
ART is not a cure for HIV, but it can help with HIV management.