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HIV Antibody Testing

What is it?

HIV stands for human immunodeficiency (im-u-no-d-fish-in-c) virus.

  • This virus attacks the body's immune system that helps fight disease. The HIV antibody test is a blood test to see if you have antibodies to the HIV virus. An antibody is material made by your body when it tries to fight off an infection. If this test is positive, more tests are usually done to find out for sure whether you have the HIV virus. HIV causes a disease called acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (sin-drom) or "AIDS."
  • This test cannot tell you if you have AIDS now or when you might develop AIDS. It just tells if you have the HIV virus in your body. With AIDS, your body has trouble fighting off germs or cancer. You can get infected with germs that do not bother most people. You can also get some kinds of pneumonia that most people do not get, such as pneumocystis (new-mo-sis-tis) carinii (kuh-rin-nee-i) pneumonia (PCP), an infection of the lungs. Or, you could get Kaposi's sarcoma (KS), a form of cancer.

How do I know whether I need the test?

You should be tested if you can say "Yes" to even one of the following things.

  • You know or think you had sex with someone who has HIV or AIDS.
  • You have had sex with several people. It doesn't matter if you are gay or straight.
  • You have used a needle that might have been used by someone else.

What do the test results mean?

It may take up to 2 weeks to get the test results. Results are only given to you. Some states have to report results to the health department. Talk to your caregiver if you have concerns about how the test is reported in your area.

  • A positive test means that you may have the HIV virus. It does not necessarily mean you have AIDS. Once a person is infected with this virus, you will remain infected for life. Some people infected with HIV seem healthy and show no symptoms for several years. Others may get sick with AIDS or have symptoms of an HIV infection. You cannot get rid of the virus and it will not go away. There is no cure for HIV infection. There are medicines to help slow down the infection. There are also medicines to help fight other infections that HIV positive people may get.
  • A negative test means that you probably do not have the HIV virus. However, you may need to follow up with repeat tests. These tests are especially important if you have done things during the last year that put you at high-risk to get HIV. Your body takes from 6 to 8 weeks (and sometimes longer) to develop the antibodies to HIV.

What should I do if my test is positive?

People who have a positive test have the virus in their body and can infect others. Be very careful to keep from spreading the HIV virus. Tell your doctor, dentist, and sex partner so that they can take steps to prevent infection.

  • Always use safe sex practices (like a condom).
  • Do not donate blood or organs.
  • Do not share needles or other drug-shooting equipment.
  • Women should not get pregnant if HIV positive.


You may feel scared, confused, and anxious because you have HIV. You may blame yourself and think you have done something wrong. These feelings are common. Talk about them with your caregiver or with someone close to you. Ask your caregiver about support groups for people with HIV. Such a group can give you support and information. Call the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) National AIDS Hotline for more information:

  • National AIDS Hotline Centers for Disease Control
    Phone: 1-800-342-AIDS
    Web Address:

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. To help with this plan, you must learn about your lab tests. You can then discuss the results with your caregivers. Work with them to decide what care may be used to treat you. You always have the right to refuse treatment.

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.