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
- 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
- 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
- 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.