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HIV Testing

HIV and Pregnancy

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that pregnant women and newborns at high risk for HIV be tested.

  • Without medical treatment, a mother infected with HIV has about a 25% chance of having a baby born with HIV.
  • Medical treatment with AZT during pregnancy and labor has been shown to dramatically reduce the risk of transmission of HIV from 25% to 8%.
  • The standard ELISA or Western blot antibody test may not be appropriate for a pregnant woman who has had recent exposure to HIV.

Counseling is an essential part of HIV antibody testing and should always be performed before and after testing regardless of HIV status. Counseling is mandatory in most anonymous testing sites.

  • Counseling prior to the test will help you understand the results of your test, learn how to protect yourself from the virus, and gain the knowledge of how to prevent the spread of HIV if you should become infected. The counselor will explain the following:
    • The test and how is performed
    • AIDS and the ways HIV infection is spread
    • Ways to prevent the spread of HIV

Different Types of HIV Tests

The 2 types of tests most commonly used to detect HIV infection are the ELISA (enzyme-linked immunoassay) and Western blot tests. These tests are very accurate, but they are only able to detect HIV antibodies and not the HIV virus particle itself.

  • A process is followed to determine if you are HIV positive.
    • First, the ELISA test is performed.
    • If the ELISA test is negative for the detection of HIV antibodies, the test is reported as negative.
    • If the ELISA test is positive for the detection of HIV antibodies, the ELISA test is repeated on the same blood sample.
    • If the sample is repeatedly reactive by ELISA, the results are then confirmed using the Western blot test.

For most HIV tests, a small amount of blood will be drawn from your arm and tested. In some cases, urine or saliva is used.

  • Most HIV tests detect antibodies to HIV in the blood, urine, or saliva. A person who is not infected with HIV will not have HIV antibodies. HIV antibodies are only present when the HIV has invaded the body. As the body’s immune system fights the HIV virus, it creates antibodies to that virus to fight off the infection.
  • The time it takes to get your test results varies from 30 minutes to a few weeks. Usually, publicly funded, free testing sites take longer to return test results. Private, for-profit, testing sites will return results faster. Costs at private HIV testing sites vary between $30 and $200 per test.
  • It takes time for the body to develop HIV antibodies after infection. The time it takes for a person who has been infected with HIV to test positive for HIV antibodies is called a window period. This window period does not refer to the time it takes for symptoms of AIDS to begin. Symptoms may not develop for years after the exposure.
  • Many reasons exist to have an HIV test performed.
    • Take advantage of early treatment and monitoring.
      • The life expectancy of a person infected with HIV has greatly increased over the past 10 years because of new treatments and prevention of opportunistic infections.
      • Early medical attention can slow the growth of HIV. The slower the virus spreads, the longer your body will be able to ward off the illnesses and life-threatening conditions that often accompany AIDS.
    • Know about HIV so that you do not transmit the virus to others including sexual partners and future children.
    • Medical treatment with medications, such as zidovudine (AZT), may reduce the risk of a pregnant woman infecting her unborn child with HIV.

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