Why it's done

HIV testing is essential for slowing the spread of HIV infection. Many people are unaware that they're infected with HIV, so they may be less likely to take precautions to help prevent spreading the virus to others. Early diagnosis often results in earlier treatment with drugs that may delay the progression to AIDS.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all individuals ages 13 to 64 years be tested for HIV. This can be done during visits with a health care provider or through community HIV testing centers.

HIV testing is particularly important for pregnant women because they can pass the virus to their babies during pregnancy or delivery or through breast-feeding. Taking medication that combats HIV during pregnancy and delivery greatly reduces the risk that you'll transmit the virus to your baby.

How often should you be tested?

The CDC recommends at least one HIV test for all people ages 13 to 64 years. Yearly testing is recommended if you're at higher risk of infection. The CDC recommends that sexually active gay and bisexual men consider testing every three to six months.

Consider HIV testing yearly and before having sex with a new partner if you:

  • Have had unprotected vaginal, oral or anal sex with more than one sexual partner or with an anonymous partner since your last screening
  • Are a man who has sex with men
  • Use intravenous (IV) drugs, including steroids, hormones or silicone
  • Have been diagnosed with tuberculosis or a sexually transmitted infection (STI), such as hepatitis or syphilis
  • Exchange sex for money or drugs
  • Have had unprotected sex with someone who falls into any of the above categories

Also consider getting tested if you:

  • Have been sexually assaulted
  • Are pregnant or planning to get pregnant