What is a HIV screening?

Human Immunodeficiency Virus, commonly referred to as HIV, is a virus that attacks the immune system and makes it hard for the body to fight off illnesses. More than a million people are living with HIV in the United States and as many as 1 in every 7 of these people do not know they have it.

HIV screenings are used to test for HIV before you are experiencing symptoms.

What are the types of HIV screenings?

The most common HIV screenings include:

  • Antibody tests — an antibody test can be performed at home and can detect the presence of antibodies in the blood.
  • Antigen/antibody tests — an antigen/antibody test looks for HIV antigens or antibodies in the blood.
  • Nucleic acid test (NAT) — a NAT test is a rarely used; it’s an expensive test that looks for the actual virus in the blood.

What can you expect during a HIV screening?

HIV screenings test for HIV antibodies in the blood, urine or saliva. Your doctor will take a blood, urine or saliva sample, send it to the laboratory for testing to determine if antibodies are present.

Results from the tests may be ready as quickly as 20 minutes to as long as a few weeks depending on the type of test you had.
It takes your body between two weeks to six months for your body to produce antibodies after you have been exposed to the HIV virus.

Who should be screened for HIV?

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone between 13 years old and 64 be tested for HIV regularly. In addition, all pregnant women should be tested in order to prevent transferring the disease to her baby.

If you are at higher risk of developing HIV, you should also be tested. Anyone that falls into one of the categories below should be tested:

  • A man who has had sex with another man
  • Anyone who has had anal or vaginal sex with a partner who is HIV-positive
  • Anyone who has had sex with more than one partner since your last HIV test
  • Anyone who has injected drugs or shared needles with others
  • Anyone who has been diagnosed or treated for a sexually transmitted disease
  • Anyone diagnosed or treated for tuberculosis or hepatitis

How often should someone who is high risk be screened?

If you are high risk for developing HIV, you should be screened annually. The CDC recommends more frequent testing for sexually active gay and bisexual men.

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