Screening for AIDS

The purpose of screening is early diagnosis and treatment. Screening tests are usually administered to people without current symptoms, but who may be at high risk for certain diseases or conditions.

Screening Tests

People who are at increased risk of HIV infection may be screened for the virus. Screening tests include:

ELISA test – This test is used to detect HIV infection. If an ELISA test is positive, the Western blot test is usually done to confirm the diagnosis. The ELISA test may be negative if you were infected with HIV recently. Many people with HIV (95%) will have a positive test within three months of the time they became infected. Most people with HIV (99%) will have a positive test within six months. If an ELISA test is negative, but you think you may have HIV, you should be tested again in 1-3 months.

Western Blot – This test is very specific at identifying HIV. It is used to confirm a positive ELISA test result.

OraQuick Rapid HIV-1 Antibody Test – This is a preliminary test that uses saliva. If you test positive, you will need to have an ELISA to confirm the results.

In addition, whenever you donate blood, your blood is tested for HIV in order to prevent transmission of the virus to the person who receives your donated blood.

Screening Guidelines

The general population is not screened for HIV infection. Counseling and testing for HIV is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for anyone who has engaged in risky behavior or had a work-related exposure. Local health departments often provide anonymous HIV testing.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that gay and bisexual men at high risk for HIV infection be screened annually for sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV.

Some of the other people who should be offered counseling and testing for HIV include:

  • Individual who are being treated for other sexually transmitted diseases
  • Men who have had sex with other men since 1975
  • People who are currently injecting drugs, or who have injected drugs in the past
  • People who sell sex in exchange for either money or drugs and their sexual partners
  • Women and men who are or have been in sexual relationships with partners who:
    • Have HIV
    • Are homosexual or bisexual
    • Use injectable drugs
  • People who had blood transfusions between 1978-1985
  • Pregnant women – all pregnant women should be offered counseling and testing for HIV
  • Babies of mothers who have AIDS or risk factors for AIDS


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: .

Conn's Current Therapy 2001 . 53rd edition. WB Saunders Company; 2001.

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases website. Available at: .

Textbook of Primary Care Medicine . 3rd edition. Mosby, Inc.; 2001.

Last reviewed January 2007 by Jill D. Landis, MD

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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