At a Glance
Why Get Tested?
To determine if you are infected with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
When to Get Tested?
Three or four weeks after you think you may have been exposed to the virus; once a year if you are at risk of being exposed to the virus; when you doctor thinks your symptoms may be due to HIV; before becoming pregnant or during pregnancy
A blood sample collected from a vein in your arm; the test can also be performed on urine or saliva (spit)
Test Preparation Needed?
The Test Sample
What is being tested?
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) causes AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) by slowly destroying the over a period of years, leaving the body vulnerable to debilitating infections. This test detects HIV antibodies produced by the body that can be detected in the blood of many about 3–4 weeks after exposure to the virus and in the blood of nearly all individuals after 3 months.
How is the sample collected for testing?
Blood is taken through a needle placed in a vein in your arm or sometimes by finger prick. Saliva is collected using a spatula with an absorbent pad on its tip which is swept around between the cheeks and the upper and lower gums.
NOTE: If undergoing medical tests makes you or someone you care for anxious, embarrassed, or even difficult to manage, you might consider reading one or more of the following articles: Coping with Test Pain, Discomfort, and Anxiety, Tips on Blood Testing, Tips to Help Children through Their Medical Tests, and Tips to Help the Elderly through Their Medical Tests.
Another article, Follow That Sample, provides a glimpse at the collection and processing of a blood sample and throat culture.
Is any test preparation needed to ensure the quality of the sample?
No test preparation is needed.
Ask a Laboratory Scientist
NOTE: This article is based on research that utilizes the sources cited here as well as the collective experience of the Lab Tests Online Editorial Review Board. This article is periodically reviewed by the Editorial Board and may be updated as a result of the review. Any new sources cited will be added to the list and distinguished from the original sources used.