for Veterans and the Public
What does the test involve?
An HIV test is designed to determine whether you have been infected with HIV. HIV is the virus that causes AIDS.
When you get infected with HIV, the HIV virus replicates itself and spreads through the body, and your body produces cells and particles (antibodies) to fight the virus.
There are different types of routine screening HIV tests, some that can detect both HIV itself (HIV antigen) and HIV antibodies, and some that detect only antibodies to HIV. If you have either HIV antigens or HIV antibodies, then you have been infected with HIV. The test does not tell you if you have AIDS, how long you have been infected, or how sick you might be.
Most HIV tests require a sample of blood, though some can test fluid from inside the mouth.
Some tests may be rapid or expedited; that is, preliminary results may be available in as little as 30 minutes. However, positive results from rapid tests must be confirmed by another, more sensitive, test--and getting those results can take 1-2 weeks. A negative result from the rapid test does not need to be confirmed. (For more information, see HIV Rapid Oral Test brochure).
Do you need an appointment?
You may or may not need an appointment to get tested at your local VA Medical Center, as different sites may have different practices. In VA, all testing for HIV requires the verbal informed consent of the veteran. Your provider will need to provide educational material to give you basic information about HIV testing and to answer any questions that you may have about HIV or the test itself.
Must you answer personal questions?
The health care provider may want to discuss your sexual or drug use history with you. This can help better assess your risk for HIV (and other infections) and provide you with some recommendations on how to reduce your risk for HIV or for transmitting HIV to others.
Will VA tell my spouse or partner if I am HIV positive?
In VA your results are entered in your medical record, but there are strict laws in VA to protect the confidentiality of your HIV test results.
If you test HIV positive, however, it is important for your spouse or partner(s) to be tested for HIV, for the sake of their health and to prevent the infection from being passed to others. If you are positive, your health care provider can help you prepare to inform your partner(s) if you want or need help, and can arrange for them to be tested. Or your provider can arrange for them to be notified by a partner counseling and notification service through a local health department.
Your spouse or partner will be informed of your HIV status without your involvement only if it is clear that you have not told them, and your provider has determined that you are unlikely to do so.
It is important to know, though, that different states have different laws about disclosing someone's HIV status. Your provider can advise you about the requirements in your state.
Are results anonymous?
If you are tested in the VA, your HIV results are entered in your medical record, so they are confidential but not anonymous. Anonymous testing means you are referred to by an identification number so that you do not have to give your name, and only you can match your number with your test result. For more information about where you can be tested anonymously, call 1-800-CDC-INFO.