What if I test positive for HIV?

For those who test HIV positive, the Antiviral Research Center (AVRC) at UC San Diego can help you in several ways.

If you are newly diagnosed with HIV infection through the Early Test or Total Test, you will be invited to participate in another study called PIRC, where you will meet with a nurse and be considered for immediate HIV treatment at no cost. In addition, you will receive counseling, education, and laboratory diagnostic tests at no cost. We can also help link you to an HIV specialist, whether or not you have health insurance.

In addition, the AVRC HQ's Partner Services program can help you to notify your sex and/or needle-sharing partners that they may have been exposed to HIV. Talking to partners about HIV is not easy and wondering if you might have infected someone else may weigh heavily on your mind. If you choose anonymous notification services, your name and other identifying information will be kept confidential throughout the process and your partners will be provided with HIV testing and linkage to additional services as needed. Our intention is to create a safe space for participants, never to judge, shame or lecture. We are here to encourage people to get tested so that they know their HIV status.

What is the difference between the Early Test and the standard HIV antibody test?

A standard HIV test detects antibodies that the person's immune system makes to fight HIV after infection; it can take up to six weeks or more for antibodies to develop. On the other hand, the Early Test detects the HIV virus, not the antibodies, so it can detect HIV infection as early as one week after exposure. Although Early Test methods are used to screen the blood supply, they are not standard in routine HIV testing. The Early Test is being provided for this study to eligible people who would like it as a part of a research study. This study strives to learn about finding individuals that are in the earliest stages of HIV infection.

Who is eligible for Early Test (HIV testing only)?

To be part of this study, you need to be 13 years of age or older (if younger than 18, must be emancipated minor or have consent given by your legal representative), provide informed consent, and be available for at least 2 weeks after enrollment. If you provide informed consent, we will conduct a risk assessment, perform a fingerstick and blood draw and ask about your PrEP use. People who take PrEP every day may not be eligible for the Early Test.

What is involved if I participate in the Early Test and Total Test studies?

As part of the Early Test, you will be asked about your sexual activity, drug use history and other factors that are related to your risk of HIV infection. Your personal information such as name, phone number and email will be collected so that we can contact you with test results if needed. You will have about 3 tablespoons of blood taken. We will screen your blood for HIV using standard HIV screening tests before we give you the Early Test. If the standard HIV test is negative, your blood will be sent for the Early Test. If the standard HIV test is preliminary positive, your blood will be sent for further tests which are necessary to confirm whether you have HIV. Some of the blood will also be tested to determine if your HIV infection is very recent. Some of the blood will be stored so that it is available for additional tests if needed. If blood is left over it may be used for research on your genes that predict response to HIV and its treatment, but only with your consent.

The Total Test includes an Early Test (HIV testing). In addition, the Total Test includes STD testing and treatment and an eligibility assessment for immediate-PrEP (I-PrEP). If eligible, an appointment will be scheduled with the I-PrEP Coordinator at AVRC HQ. We will screen your blood for syphilis and ask you to self-collect swabs and urine for STD testing. If your syphilis screening test is positive and/or you are eligible for I-PrEP, your blood will be sent for further testing to confirm syphilis infection and/or determine if PrEP is safe for you.

How long will it take to get my Early Test results?

You will take a rapid antibody test first and get those results on site during your Early Test visit. If you test negative on the rapid test, we will draw blood to send to the lab that performs the Early Test. If your Early Test result is negative, then you will be able to access your negative result through a secure website or on a toll-free phone line two weeks after you have taken the test. If your Early Test result is positive, study personnel will contact you within two weeks using the contact information you provide.

Is there any other way that I might know that I got infected with HIV other than taking a test?

Taking a test is the only conclusive way to determine if you are infected. Many people have symptoms of fever, headache, rash, diarrhea, or other flu-like symptoms one to two weeks after being exposed to HIV. However, the symptoms are so similar to a flu that most people do not recognize that they have been infected by HIV.

Is there any risk to participating in the study?

Your participation involves some risks:

  • Taking blood from a vein in your arm can occasionally be associated with pain, bruising or bleeding. In rare cases, the site can get infected. Some people get dizzy or even faint when their blood is drawn.
  • You may experience some anxiety or embarrassment when testing and obtaining your STD results. You may experience the following when collecting samples for STD testing: discomfort (anal and throat swabs) and gagging (throat swab).
  • You may find out you have HIV, and this can be upsetting. Waiting for the final results can also cause anxiety for some. There is no way to prove that the virus you have is the same as someone else’s, but you may feel upset that you infected your partner or they infected you. Counselors are available to talk about this.
  • There are risks to using PrEP (e.g., Truvada). If eligible, these risks will be discussed in detail during your I-PrEP visit at AVRC HQ.
  • Some other risks may be unforeseeable but you will be informed if they are identified.
  • There is a risk of loss of confidentiality but all measures possible are taken to ensure that your information is secure and consistent with the policies of UC San Diego.

Why do I need to know my HIV status right away?

People are very infectious during the first few months after contracting the virus and more likely to transmit HIV to others during this early period. It is very important that people with HIV know their status as soon as possible after being infected so that they can protect others from being infected. Also, many studies have shown that the earlier HIV is diagnosed, the better your long-term prognosis and quality of life.

Are the Early Test and Total Test confidential?

The Early Test and Total Test are confidential, but not anonymous. This means that we will ask for your name and contact information so that we can notify you of any positive test results, or if repeat testing is needed. However, your results will not be given to anyone else without your written permission. Your information is kept in secure files that are protected. HIV is a reportable disease like Hepatitis C or syphilis, and must be reported to the public health department in accordance with the law. The U.S. Department of Health Services has issued a Certificate of Confidentiality for this research that protects your information from being disclosed for other purposes, even if it is requested by court order or subpoena.

What if I am on PrEP (HIV Pre-exposure prophylaxis)?

It is recommended that all people on PrEP continue to receive HIV testing at regular intervals (typically every 3 months). The Early Test is available to most people who are taking PrEP.

Who is eligible for Total Test (HIV / STD / PrEP)?

To be part of this study, your last Total Test must have been three or more months ago and you need to be 18 years of age or older, a person assigned male at birth having sex with other persons assigned male at birth, HIV negative (at last test) or of unknown HIV status, provide informed consent, and be available for at least 2 weeks after enrollment. If you provide informed consent, we will conduct a risk assessment, which will evaluate your eligibility for PrEP, perform a fingerstick and blood draw, and collect samples for STD testing.