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Frequently Asked Questions | Overview

What is HIV testing?

HIV testing is a method of screening for HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) using a blood sample.

How is HIV testing done?

At Boston HAPPENS, HIV testing is done by drawing a small amount of blood from your arm and sending it to the laboratory for results. This kind of test is called a fourth-generation test and it can find the HIV virus very soon after infection. At Boston HAPPENS, we can run a test that looks for both HIV and the hepatitis C virus, another infection that can be passed by similar means.

Does it hurt?

Many people who have been tested say that it doesn't hurt nearly as much as they thought it would. We use a small needle and the site heals quickly within a day.

How quickly can you I get results?

Results are ready in about one week.

How can I prepare for a visit?

We collect blood for HIV/hepatitis C/syphilis testing and urine for gonorrhea/chlamydia testing. It is helpful to eat something and drink water before your visit.

How much does testing cost? Do I need insurance?

Testing is billed through your insurance; the costs associated depend on your insurance. If you do not have insurance or need free testing, we can refer you to another testing location.

What happens if my results come back positive for HIV?

If your fourth-generation HIV test is "reactive," the lab will run a second test on the same blood sample to confirm the result. If the confirmatory test result matches, that would mean you are HIV positive. Your screener can talk to you about what steps are next and help you set up a plan for getting connected to medical care and other services you might want or need.

Is the fourth-generation test accurate?

Fourth-generation HIV testing is very sensitive, which means that there is a small chance a "reactive" or positive result is false. A negative result is always accurate, unless you have been exposed to HIV within the last two weeks. If you have been exposed to HIV in the last two weeks, it's too soon to test. You should wait two weeks from the last possible exposure* before getting an HIV test. If you’re concerned about something that happened more than two weeks ago, but also had more recent exposure, you can consider getting tested now and returning in a month or two for a repeat test.

* — possible exposures include:

  • unprotected vaginal, anal, or oral sex
  • sharing needles or "works"
  • when a condom breaks or slips off during sex
  • sexual assault
  • sharing sex toys
  • contact with another person's blood

Have more questions? Send your questions to Boston HAPPENS and we will get back to you within three days. For testing hours and directions, see our counseling and testing page.