Think you’re not at risk for HIV? In a 2012 study, 18% of people among those screened for HIV tested positive for the virus and did not even know they had it . A simple blood test can determine if a person is HIV positive—and, the earlier treatment is started, the better the outcome. There is no cure for HIV, the human immunodeficiency virus, which is a precursor to AIDS, or Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. It can take as long as 10-15 years, even if untreated, for someone who is HIV positive to show any symptoms of AIDS, which is why testing and treatment are important to prolong this period of dormant symptoms, as well as to prevent further spread of HIV .
How is HIV acquired? Who’s at risk?
Avert.org, a leading site on HIV and AIDS education, notes that HIV is only transmitted, or spread, through certain body fluids of a person infected with the human immunodeficiency virus. These include blood, breast milk, semen, vaginal and anal fluids. The human immunodeficiency virus does NOT get transmitted through saliva, urine or sweat . You can not acquire HIV from casual contact with someone who is HIV positive, such as using the same utensils or drinking glasses, using a toilet that has been used by someone who is HIV positive—nor will a sweaty summer hug transmit the virus. In short: sexual contact with someone who is HIV positive can transmit the virus, direct blood-to-blood contact can transmit the virus, and a mother can transmit HIV to a baby if she is nursing, however, by taking antiretroviral medicines, the mother will not transmit the virus to her child.
A person is most at risk for HIV if: 
- They have had sex with someone who is HIV positive OR has an unknown HIV status—essentially, if it is not certain a sexual partner is negative.
- They have received food, shelter, money, or street drugs in exchange for sex.
- They use injectable drugs—including street drugs, but also steroids or hormones—and have shared injection equipment, namely needles or syringes.
- They have another sexually transmitted disease/infection [STD/STI]—this is, they have been diagnosed OR treated for another STD/STI.
- They have been diagnosed with and/or treated for hepatitis, of any strain, or tuberculosis, also known as TB.
- And… if you have had sex with anyone who has the above risk factors, or—as in unknown HIV status—whose risk factors you do not know.
AIDS.gov also recommends being tested if you have experienced a sexual assault, or you are a woman who is pregnant or planning to become pregnant, so that treatment can be started to reduce the risk of transmission to the baby. 
It may also seem to be stereotyping, but certain cultural groups are at higher risk for acquiring HIV . While in no way is HIV or AIDS something that only affects gay men—as was a previous misconception in the 1980s—looking at how communities function can help us understand a bit about the spread of HIV and why certain clusters of people are at higher risk. Everyone’s risk of acquiring HIV is the same, however, the smaller a social circle or community, the more probable it is that HIV may be transmitted among its members—this is how HIV/AIDS became a major problem among gay communities (particularly, men who have sex with men—whether gay, bisexual or other gender/sexual orientation identities), especially in the 80s. It is because the community’s “web” is smaller: people are more likely to have sexual contact with someone who has had sex with a partner who is HIV positive. 2% of the US population identifies as gay or bisexual, but, still the majority of new HIV infections each year in the United States are within this demographic . New HIV infections are also more common among 13-24 year old Black men—this may be due to issues with preventative education and care, and treatment for those who are HIV positive, in this population .
Healthcare workers, due to their contact with patient’s body fluids or possibility for needle-stick wounds, sex workers (as above), people who are economically disadvantaged (due to treatment/care and education resources), and individuals who are or have been incarcerated in a prison or jail (for reasons similar to why HIV spreads in smaller communities, as well as in some cases education and preventative medicine factors) are more likely to acquire the virus.  Testing guidelines are different for those who are at higher risk of acquiring HIV.
Who should be tested for HIV?
If a person has unsafe sex, or shares injection drug items, such as needles, they should be tested for HIV at least annually. AIDS.gov also recommends benefit of more frequent testing for sexually active gay and bisexual men, such as every 3-6 months.  It’s best to speak with a doctor who can determine the best testing schedule for you—for example, a HIV-negative couple who have been in a monogamous relationship for a long time, may choose to be tested less frequently.
Remember, 18% of people who tested positive for HIV did not know they were positive for the virus. If you’re uncertain… get tested!
How is someone tested for HIV?
The Centres for Disease Control recommends HIV tests be run with routine care unless a patient declines, thus, HIV testing is to be included in a routine blood panel—the hope is that this decreases stigma surrounding HIV testing. A HIV test can be done by your doctor, a public or community health nurse, at a community health centre, family planning clinic, and more. The following widget can help you find an HIV testing centre near you.
AIDS.gov also notes home test kits for HIV are available and FDA approved. The most accurate is to perform a blood test at home, which is then sent to a laboratory anonymously, and results are provided by phone the next business day. If a test is positive, the individual is asked to do a follow up test, and the test manufacturer provides ongoing support and referral to treatment following a positive test result . Another option is the “OraQuick” test, which will provide results in 20 minutes, right in your home, that is done with a kit where the mouth is swabbed for a sample. Oral tests may provide a false-negative approximately 1 in 12 times, as blood is a more reliable marker of HIV status, earlier after infection, than saliva is.  Positive saliva tests should always be followed up with a blood test, and the organization provides support similar to that which is provided by the blood testing company. 
For a more detailed look at HIV and AIDS, read my post from World AIDS Day in December 2015. It’s important to remember to practice safer sex year-round, not just on days aiming to raise awareness of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV and AIDS.
If you are HIV positive, or have AIDS, it is important to wear a medical ID bracelet or necklace. Treatments have improved greatly for HIV, and every HIV positive person who speaks out helps to reduce stigma—however, if you would rather not disclose your status, we have several discrete options for individuals who don’t want medical details visible. Several products can be discreetly engraved with information on the back of any tag, the reverse side of a non-rotating sport band (with “see reverse” on the front), or concealed within a velcro wristband to protect your privacy.