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The doctor will ask about your symptoms, medical history, and risk factors. A physical exam will be done. If you have risk factors for HIV or the doctor suspects you may be infected, a test can be ordered. Since HIV infection can exist without any symptoms, it is important to be tested. Testing is especially important if you are engaged in behavior that increases your risk for infection, such as unprotected sex or drug use.

HIV tests include:

  • Rapid testing through a saliva test. Results can be ready within a half hour.
  • ELISA or Western blot tests—blood tests to determine if the immune system has recognized the HIV virus
  • HIV RNA assay—to detect the HIV virus itself

Blood tests are the only way to be absolutely sure of the diagnosis. These tests will need to be done even if a rapid test is positive. A correct diagnosis is important because it will start the treatment process.

HIV can progress to AIDS. The presence of AIDS is suggested if:

  • A type of white blood cell called helper T cells drop below 200 cells per cubic millimeter of blood.
  • Helper T cells are less than 14% of all lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell).
  • Certain illnesses are present, such as Kaposi sarcoma or a specific type of pneumonia. These illnesses only occur with compromised immune systems.

References:

AIDS Diagnosis. University of California at San Francisco Medical Center website. Available at: http://www.ucsfhealth.org/conditions/aids/diagnosis.html. Accessed November 19, 2013.

A guide to primary care of people with HIV/AIDS. National Institute of Health and Human Services website. Available at: http://hab.hrsa.gov/deliverhivaidscare/files/primary2004ed.pdf. Accessed November 2013.

HIV Basics. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/basics/index.html. Updated November 8, 2013. Accessed November 19, 2013.

Primary HIV infection. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us. Updated February 13, 2013. Accessed November 18, 2013.

Testing and diagnosis. HIV/AIDS. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease website. Available at: http://www.niaid.nih.gov/topics/HIVAIDS/Understanding/Pages/diagnosis.aspx. Accessed November 19, 2013.



Last reviewed September 2014 by David L. Horn, MD, FACP

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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