Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is the cause of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS).
All persons infected with HIV can spread it to others through unprotected sex, needle sharing, and donating blood or other tissues. Infected mothers can also spread HIV to newborns. Testing for HIV infection is voluntary. Read this sheet carefully to help you decide whether to be tested or not.

What the HIV test means
This test detects antibodies to HIV, not the virus itself. Antibodies are the body's reaction to the virus.

A POSITIVE test means that a person is infected with HIV and can pass it to others. By itself, a positive test does not mean that a person has AIDS, which is the most advanced stage of HIV infection.

A NEGATIVE test means that antibodies to HIV were not detected. This usually means that the person is not infected with HIV. In some cases, however, the infection may have happened too recently for the test to turn positive. The blood test usually turns positive within 1 month after infection and in almost all cases within 3 months. Therefore, if you were infected very recently, a negative test result could be wrong.

False results (a negative test in someone who is infected, or a positive test in someone who is not infected) are rare. Indeterminate results (when it is unclear whether the test is positive or negative) also are rare. When a test result does not seem to make sense, a repeat test or special confirmatory tests may help to determine whether a person is or is not infected.

Benefits of being tested

There are substantial benefits to being tested. Most infected persons may benefit from medications that delay or prevent AIDS and other serious infections. Test results also can help people make choices about contraception or pregnancy. Therefore, all infected persons should have a complete medical checkup, including tests of the immune system, to help their health care providers recommend the best health care.
There are other reasons to be tested. Even though everyone should follow safer sex guidelines whether or not they are infected with HIV, many persons find that knowing their test results helps them to protect their partners and themselves. Some persons want to know their test results before beginning a new sexual relationship or becoming pregnant. Others will be reassured by learning that they are not infected.

Risks and disadvantages of being tested

Many persons with positive or indeterminate test results will experience stress, anxiety, or depression. Some persons with negative tests may continue or increase unsafe behaviors, which would increase the risk of HIV infection. Some persons are afraid that their test results will get into the wrong hands, and that discrimination might result. (See Privacy and Confidentiality, below.) For these reasons, you should consider your social supports (such as family and friends) and your insurance needs before you are tested.

Privacy and confidentiality

Many doctors keep a record of the health care services they provide to you. You may ask them to see and copy that record. You may also ask them to correct that record. They will not disclose your record to others unless you direct them to do so or unless the law authorizes or compels them to do so.
Washington State law requires that health care providers and laboratories report to the local health department the name of anyone infected with HIV. However, the report is coded and the name is destroyed after 90 days. No lists of names are maintained. Penalties for violations of the confidentiality laws are severe.
Anonymous HIV testing is available. If you do choose to test anonymously, your record will contain only your personal ID code. It will not show your name. To assure that results are provided only to the person who tested, you must confirm your identity with your personal ID code when you return or call for your test results.

HIV Facts
By the end of 2003, there were 37.8 million people living with HIV/AIDS, including 17 million women and 2.1 million children under the age of 15.
4.8 million people were newly infected with HIV in 2003, including 630,000 children.
In 2003 alone, a total of 2.9 million people died of HIV/AIDS-related causes.
UNAIDS predicts that an additional 45 million people will become infected with HIV in 126 low-and middle-income countries by 2010, unless the world succeeds in mounting a drastically expanded, global prevention effort.

HIV Symptoms

How can I tell if I'm infected with HIV? What are the symptoms?
The only way to know if you are infected is to be tested for HIV infection. You cannot rely on symptoms to know whether or not you are infected. Many people who are infected with HIV do not have any symptoms at all for many years.
The following may be warning signs of HIV infection:
•    rapid weight loss
•    dry cough
•    recurring fever or profuse night sweats
•    profound and unexplained fatigue
•    swollen lymph glands in the armpits, groin, or neck
•    diarrhea that lasts for more than a week
•    white spots or unusual blemishes on the tongue, in the mouth, or in the throat
•    pneumonia
•    red, brown, pink, or purplish blotches on or under the skin or inside the mouth, nose, or eyelids
•    memory loss, depression, and other neurological disorders

However, no one should assume they are infected if they have any of these symptoms. Each of these symptoms can be related to other illnesses. Again, the only way to determine whether you are infected is to be tested for HIV infection.
You also cannot rely on symptoms to establish that a person has AIDS. The symptoms of AIDS are similar to the symptoms of many other illnesses.

How does HIV cause AIDS?

What is AIDS?
AIDS stands for Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome.
Acquired - means that the disease is not hereditary but develops after birth from contact with a disease causing agent (in this case, HIV).
Immunodeficiency - means that the disease is characterized by a weakening of the immune system.
Syndrome - refers to a group of symptoms that collectively indicate or characterize a disease. In the case of AIDS this can include the development of certain infections and/or cancers, as well as a decrease in the number of certain cells in a person's immune system.
A diagnosis of AIDS is made by a physician using specific clinical or laboratory standards.

What is HIV?

HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is the virus that causes AIDS. This virus may be passed from one person to another when infected blood, semen, or vaginal secretions come in contact with an uninfected person's broken skin or mucous membranes*. In addition, infected pregnant women can pass HIV to their baby during pregnancy or delivery, as well as through breast-feeding. People with HIV have what is called HIV infection. Some of these people will develop AIDS as a result of their HIV infection.

How does HIV cause AIDS?
HIV destroys a certain kind of blood cell (CD4+ T cells) which is crucial to the normal function of the human immune system. In fact, loss of these cells in people with HIV is an extremely powerful predictor of the development of AIDS. Studies of thousands of people have revealed that most people infected with HIV carry the virus for years before enough damage is done to the immune system for AIDS to develop. However, sensitive tests have shown a strong connection between the amount of HIV in the blood and the decline in CD4+ T cells and the development of AIDS. Reducing the amount of virus in the body with anti-retroviral therapies can dramatically slow the destruction of a person's immune system.

What causes AIDS?
AIDS is caused by infection with a virus called human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). This virus is passed from one person to another through blood-to-blood and sexual contact. In addition, infected pregnant women can pass HIV to their babies during pregnancy or delivery, as well as through breast feeding. People with HIV have what is called HIV infection. Some of these people will develop AIDS as a result of their HIV infection.