AIDS Home > Understanding How HIV Is Identified and How to Avoid It

How Is It Diagnosed?

Because early HIV infection often causes no symptoms, a doctor or other healthcare worker usually can diagnose it by testing a person's blood for the presence of antibodies (disease-fighting proteins) for HIV. HIV antibodies generally do not reach levels in the blood that the doctor can see until one to three months after infection, and it may take the antibodies as long as six months to be produced in quantities large enough to show up in standard blood tests. Therefore, people exposed to the virus should get an HIV test within this time period.
(Click HIV Tests for more information.)

Preventing HIV

Over the past 10 years, researchers have developed antiretroviral drugs to fight both HIV infection and its associated infections and cancers. However, the drugs that are currently available do not cure people of the HIV infection or AIDS. In addition, these drugs all have potential side effects that can be severe. Because no vaccine for HIV is available, the only way to prevent infection with the virus is to avoid behaviors that put a person at risk of infection, such as sharing needles and having unprotected sex.
(Click HIV Prevention for more information.)
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Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
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