Center for Young Women's Health

HIV Testing



  • Everyone who is sexually active should get an HIV test.
  • HIV tests may use blood or saliva.
  • No matter which test you have, it's VERY IMPORTANT TO GET YOUR RESULTS!

Should I get tested?

Anyone who is sexually active should get an HIV test just like a routine physical. Getting tested and knowing your status is the only way to make sure that you are negative.


The number of new infections in young people makes it very important that everybody who is sexually active gets a test. Deciding to get tested can be the hardest part. So give yourself credit for taking a big step to get tested.


What is a test like?

There are many places to get HIV tests but most of them follow a similar guide when testing patients. First, most testing places start by offering “pre-test counseling.” During this time, you would receive important information about HIV, risk factors for HIV, and the types of different tests. It also provides you with some time to talk about any concerns or worries about getting tested. The counselor will then give you the option of getting tested.


The second part is getting “the test”. There are three main tests:

Standard blood test - (EIA or ELISA Tests) This type of blood test takes about 2 weeks to get the results. Blood is drawn once from the arm.
Western Blot - If the Standard blood test is positive for HIV antibodies, the Western blot test is done. If this test comes back positive, a person has HIV.
Rapid tests (fingerstick and oral tests) - Both tests take about 20 minutes to get the results
  1. Blood test is a fingerstick; a small amount of blood is taken from the tip of the finger and mixed in a solution.
  2. Oral test - a small amount of saliva from a person’s mouth is obtained using a cotton swab that looks like a toothbrush.


If either rapid test is positive, the Western blot test is done to confirm that the person is HIV positive.


It is important to know there are three types of results that can come from a rapid test: non-reactive, invalid, and reactive.

There is another test available for home use:

No matter which test a person chooses to do IT IS VERY IMPORTANT TO ALWAYS GET YOUR RESULTS.


The third and last part of the testing procedure is the “post-test” session. Getting the results is of course the first thing that happens but it is also important to talk about what those results mean for the future. After the test, follow-up appointments or referrals can be made.


Confidential vs. Anonymous?

Some testing sites will offer the option between confidential and anonymous. A “confidential test” uses your name and some other identifying information. All that information is locked. Only the doctor who orders the test can get the result and your insurance company (if they pay for the test).


Anonymous testing does not use your name. It uses code names or numbers in order to identify your test and results.


Different test sites as well as different states have their own rules. Find out if the test is free, and who will have access to the results before you go to get tested.


Where Can I Get Tested?

Find a local testing center near you here.

This website has a feature where you can type in your zip code, and get the names and addresses of testing locations near you. It's sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).


Written and reviewed by the CYWH Staff at Boston Children's Hospital


Updated: 6/9/2011


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