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.