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Pennsylvania has the 9th highest HIV diagnoses in the United States. Although engaging in unprotected oral, anal or vaginal sex is the leading cause of exposure to HIV, there are many ways to transmit the disease such as blood transfusions, the sharing of needles and during pregnancy, delivery or breast-feeding. There is an array of HIV symptoms that individuals may display but many of them mock other illnesses. Many individuals don’t display any symptoms at all, making consistent testing every 3-6 months even more important. Getting tested for HIV is the only way to determine if you are carrying the disease.

How Do HIV Tests Work?

After you come into contact with HIV, your immune system creates antibodies in an attempt to fight off the infection. On average, it takes 90 days for your immune system to produce a high enough quantity of antibodies to appear positive on a test, which is why HIV symptoms often go unnoticed. If you have unprotected sex, become pregnant, receive blood transfusion or share needles, it is recommended you get tested multiple times within the span of a year.

What Types of HIV Tests are Available?

Getting tested for HIV isn’t as invasive as you might think. There are a variety of testing methods that are easy, painless and fast.

Oral Testing. This type of HIV testing in minimally invasive. A medical professional will use a soft swab to gently collect oral fluid from the inside of your cheek. Oral swabs, once taken to the lab, are tested for the antibodies your body naturally produces when infected with HIV, rather than testing for the virus itself. These tests can be performed at home as well.

Today, rapid oral swabs can provide test results for HIV-1 and HIV-2 in just 20 minutes. This test is a quick and easy way to get an idea of your status. For both types of oral tests, if your test is reactive, your medical provider will take blood to confirm your HIV diagnosis.

Finger Prick. This type of HIV test, also called a rapid test, tests for antibodies by taking a prick of blood from the finger. Most rapid tests will give you results in 10-20 minutes, with some as little as one minute. Much like oral testing, if your results are reactive, your medical provider will take blood to confirm your HIV diagnosis.

Blood Testing. Getting an HIV blood test requires you to have a blood sample taken by a medical professional. Once the HIV blood sample is taken, it will be sent off to a lab for testing. The results will be available for you to view shortly thereafter. Unlike oral testing, the HIV blood test will be examined for not only the HIV antibodies but also the virus itself. If the test comes back positive, a follow-up test will be performed to rule out any error. 

Where Can I Get Tested for HIV?

You can get tested for HIV and a variety of other STDs at your family doctor’s office, community health clinics, health departments or a Family Health Council of Central Pennsylvania partner agency. HIV or other STD testing is not included at annual physical exams and might require you to request the test be given. Please know that your physician’s office must keep your patient information confidential.

If you or a loved one experience HIV symptoms or are interested in getting tested for HIV, contact FHCCP.