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You probably have heard that there is a blood test that detects whether you have been infected with the virus that causes AIDS. To help you make a decision about being tested, this website will explain what the test results mean and will examine the possible advantages and disadvantages of being tested.

What is the test?
  • When HIV enters the body, the body produces antibodies in response to the virus. The test detects the presence of these antibodies in a small sample of blood usually drawn from the arm. The test DOES NOT detect whether you have AIDS-it only tells you if your body has produced antibodies in response to HIV.
What does HIV-positive mean?
  • If you have developed antibodies to the virus, you are HIV-positive. This means that at some point you were exposed to the virus and have been infected with HIV.

  • Being HIV-positive DOES NOT mean that you now have AIDS or that you will definitely develop AIDS in the future. Some people may remain completely healthy for long periods of time, possibly even the rest of their lives. Others may develop full blown AIDS anywhere from three to ten years after infection.

  • Being HIV-positive DOES NOT mean that you can no longer have sex. Just make sure that you ALWAYS practice safer sex. For more information on safer sex, call the Iowa Department of Public Health at 515.281.6801.

  • In all cases of a positive test result, a second blood test will be performed to confirm the results of the first test.
What does HIV-negative mean?
  • If you have not developed antibodies to the virus, you are HIV-negative. However, a negative test result does not guarantee that you are virus-free. Your body can take anywhere from three to six months after infection with the AIDS virus to produce antibodies.

  • If you take the test after you have been infected with HIV, but before your body has had enough time to produce antibodies, you will test negative.

  • A negative test result does not mean that you cannot transmit the virus to someone else.

  • You need to be periodically re-tested in the following year, while continuing to practice safer sex.

  • Intravenous drug users should never share needles, even if they are HIV-negative.
What are the advantages of taking the test?
  • There are several reasons to consider taking the HIV antibody test.

  • If you think that you may have been infected with HIV, consider taking the test as a first step toward adopting a healthier life-style and taking control of your health. Several new therapies have shown promise in delaying the onset of AIDS in people infected with HIV. These treatments, which suppress the virus and strengthen the immune system, may be most effective at the early stages of the disease. It is often recommended that you begin these therapies as early as possible after HIV infection.

  • Knowing that you are HIV-positive will, in most cases, help you to practice safer sex all the time. This is important since repeated exposure to the virus seems to play a large role in the development of AIDS.

  • If you are thinking about having a child and think that you or your partner may be infected, you and your partner may want to consider getting tested. Confirming that you and your partner are HIV-negative before conceiving a child will reduce the chance of transmitting HIV to the child before or at birth.
What are the disadvantages of taking the test?
  • People sometimes feel depressed and anxious when they find out that they are HIV-positive. People who learn that they are HIV-positive may also feel afraid, helpless and worried about being shunned by their lovers, families, friends and co-workers.

  • The purpose of pre-test counseling is to make sure that you understand what the test will and will not tell you, and whether you should take it. Pre-test counseling will help prepare you in case you test positive.

  • Post-test counseling will help you deal with any negative reactions. Then you can begin to take control of your health and, if needed, begin preventative medicines.

  • Another possible disadvantage of taking the HIV antibody test is that you may be denied services or suffer discrimination if you are HIV-positive. If insurance companies find out that you are HIV-positive, or even that you took the test, they may attempt to deny or take away your health or life insurance coverage. Some doctors, dentists, discriminated against people who are HIV-positive even though this is illegal.

  • For answers to questions and more information on HIV and sexually transmitted diseases call the Iowa Department of Public Health at 515.281.6801 (M-F, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.).  For HIV and STD testing, call the Polk County Health Department at 515.286.3798.
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