Diagnosis of HIV/AIDS

The doctor will ask about symptoms and past health. A physical exam will be done. The doctor will ask about certain risks that make the chance infection higher. If the doctor suspects HIV, tests will be done. Testing is important because someone can have the virus without symptoms.

Tests may include:

  • Rapid testing with a saliva test—Results can be ready within a half hour
  • ELISA or Western blot tests—Blood tests will be able to tell if the immune system has found HIV
  • HIV RNA assay—To detect the HIV itself
  • Tests for other sexually transmitted infections

Blood tests are the only way to confirm a diagnosis. These tests will need to be done even if a rapid test is positive. A diagnosis is needed so treatment can start right away.

HIV can progress to AIDS. A person may have AIDS if:

  • A type of white blood cell (WBC) called helper T cells drop below a certain level in their blood.
  • They have certain health problems such as Kaposi sarcoma or pneumocystis pneumonia. These only happen in people who have weak immune systems.
  • They have other infections that happen with a weak immune system.
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References:

AIDS diagnosis. UCSF Medical Center website. Available at: https://www.ucsfhealth.org/conditions/aids/diagnosis. Accessed November 10, 2021.
Guide for HIV/AIDS clinical care. National Institute of Health and Human Services website. Available at: https://hab.hrsa.gov/sites/default/files/hab/clinical-quality-management/2014guide.pdf. Updated April 2014. Accessed November 10, 2021.
HIV Testing. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/basics/testing.html. Accessed November 10, 2021.
Initial evaluation of the patient with HIV. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/evaluation/initial-evaluation-of-the-patient-with-hiv-2. Accessed November 10, 2021.
Last reviewed November 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board David L. Horn, MD, FACP
Last Updated: 11/10/2021

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