Skip to main content
Rural Health Information Hub

Diagnosis of HIV

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that around 1 in 7 people infected with HIV do not know that they are infected. Conducting screening to identify and diagnose HIV-positive individuals serves two major purposes within the HIV care continuum:

  • Identifying infected individuals. This enables those individuals to be connected with appropriate healthcare services that help them to suppress the virus, prolonging and improving the quality of their lives.
  • Increasing individuals' awareness of their HIV status, which helps prevent new HIV infections. HIV-positive individuals adhering to a treatment regimen have low levels of virus in their bodies and are thus much less likely to pass the virus to another individual. In addition, knowledge of one's HIV status may lead to decreased risk-taking behavior and subsequently a decreased risk of infecting others.

Co-infection with viral hepatitis, including hepatitis B and hepatitis C, is a serious concern. In many cases, this is due to exposure to both viruses through injection drug use. Viral hepatitis can be detected through blood tests. It is important to know if a person has a viral hepatitis co-infection because it can make treatment for their HIV infection more complicated and increase their risk of liver damage.

HIV testing is a key strategy in the federal Ending the HIV Epidemic (EHE) initiative, which calls for diagnosing all new cases of HIV as soon as possible to ensure people are quickly connected to care and treatment to prevent future HIV transmission. There are many different settings in which a person can receive an HIV test. These include:

  • A health clinic
  • A doctor's office
  • Mobile testing vans
  • Community testing events
  • At home, using a home HIV test

HIV screening, or testing of a large number of people, is usually done with a rapid HIV test, which provides results in 30 minutes or less. If the result of the rapid test is positive, an individual should have follow-up laboratory tests to confirm the diagnosis.

Organizations, agencies, and other collaborators across the United States are seeking innovative ways to make HIV testing more accessible for people who are disproportionality affected by HIV. For example, one innovative model for an HIV self-testing program provides free HIV testing kits for people to use at home. For more information about HIV self-testing and other models for HIV testing and diagnosis in rural communities, see Models to Identify HIV/AIDS Cases in Module 2.

Resources to Learn More

HIV Self-Testing Programs to Improve Testing Uptake and Increase Diagnoses
Explains the importance of HIV self-testing programs as a key strategy to end the HIV epidemic. Provides examples of the methods two state health departments are using to expand HIV self-testing opportunities.
Author(s): Harold J. Phillips
Organization(s):, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

HIV Testing
Provides the CDC's proposed guidelines on HIV screening and testing in both clinic and nonclinical settings. Includes implementation resources for HIV testing in clinical and nonclinical settings.
Organization(s): Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

HIV Testing Overview
Provides an overview of HIV testing and describes the different types of HIV tests including home HIV tests and how they work.
Organization(s):, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services