HIV/AIDS

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What does the test involve?

for Veterans and the Public

What does the test involve?

The 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, your body produces cells and particles to fight the virus. These particles are called antibodies. The HIV test can detect antibodies to HIV in your body. (The HIV antibodies are different from antibodies for the flu, a cold, or other infections.) If you have 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.

The HIV test requires a sample of blood or fluid from inside the mouth.

For the blood test, blood is drawn either from the arm or from the finger with a needlestick. Results from oral-fluid or blood tests usually take 1 to 2 weeks.

For the oral-fluid test (called OraSure), a probe sits in your mouth between your cheek and gums for 2-5 minutes.

However, there are now rapid tests for both oral fluid and blood that give results in less than 30 minutes. Rapid tests require special handling, and not every VA medical center or clinic offers them. What's more, 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 you better assess your risk for HIV and provide you with some recommendations on how to reduce your risk for HIV or for transmitting HIV to others.

If you test positive, your spouse is informed of your HIV status only if it is clear that you have not told your spouse, and your provider has determined that you are unlikely to do so. Then your provider may notify your spouse or may use a partner counseling and notification service through a local health department.

Are results anonymous?

No, in VA your results are entered in your medical record. However, there are strict laws in VA to protect the confidentiality of your HIV test results.

Anonymous testing means you are referred to by an identification number so that you do not have to give your name. Only you can match your number with your test result. If you want more information about where you can be tested anonymously, you can call 1-800-CDC-INFO.

Getting information about testing at a VA facility

As part of the HIV testing process in VA, you will receive written educational materials and a health care provider will answer your questions about HIV. The provider also can answer questions and offer advice about reducing your risk for HIV.

At your return appointment, a health care provider will provide you with your test result and answer any questions that you may have. If your test result is positive, the provider will help you with a referral for medical evaluation and treatment in VA. If you would like assistance with getting a referral for mental health or substance abuse care in VA as well. If your result is negative, you will learn about ways to protect yourself against HIV.