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HIV is the human immunodeficiency virus. It is the virus that can lead to acquired immune deficiency syndrome, or AIDS. HIV damages a person's body by destroying specific blood cells, called CD4+ T cells. These blood cells are an important part of the immune system. A healthy immune system helps the body fight diseases.

HIV is spread through unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex. HIV is also spread through direct blood to blood contact with infected blood. Babies born to infected mothers are at risk for infection, especially if the mother did not receive treatment during the pregnancy. HIV is not spread through casual contact.

Early medical care is very important in staying healthy with HIV infection. Medical treatment can delay illness and may reduce transmission. The only way to know if you have HIV is to get tested.

Get an HIV test if:

  • you had unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex with men who have sex with men, multiple partners, or anonymous partners?
  • you injected drugs or steroids or shared equipment (such as needles, syringes, cookers, filters, works) with others?
  • you exchanged sex for drugs or money?
  • you ever had hepatitis, tuberculosis (TB), syphilis, chlamydia, gonorrhea, or herpes?
  • you had unprotected sex with someone who could answer yes to any of the above questions?
  • you are pregnant or plan to be pregnant.

If you test positive, there are treatments that will help keep you healthier longer.

  • Treatment is available even if you don't have health insurance.
  • If you know you have the virus, you can protect your sex or needle-sharing partner.
  • A woman thinking about having a baby needs to know if she has the virus since she could give it to her baby. A pregnant woman with HIV can take medicine that will help protect the baby from HIV.

Free walk-in HIV testing is available at Public Health Madison & Dane County (PHMDC):

Public Health Walk-In HIV Testing

2705 E. Washington Ave. (second floor)

  • Monday, 12 - 3 p.m.
  • Wednesday, 3 - 6 p.m.
  • Friday, 9 a.m. - 12 p.m.

Call (608) 243-0411 for information or to schedule testing outside these hours.

  • Your healthcare provider or a HIV test counselor will talk to you about your risk and your testing options.
  • A specimen of blood from your arm or finger is collected. Some test sites also do testing on oral fluid. (PHMDC does not offer oral fluid testing.)
  • Depending on the type of test being done, you may get your test results at the initial visit. With some tests you will need to return to the test site or clinic in 1 week to get results.

Many HIV screening tests look for HIV antibodies. Most people have detectable antibodies by 12 weeks after being infected. Some HIV tests detect HIV antigen or virus. The antigen tests will detect HIV about 1 month after being infected.

PHMDC offers 2 types of HIV antibody tests:

  • Rapid HIV Test
  • Standard Blood Test

For detailed information on testing, visit HIV Basics, CDC

  • Public Health Madison & Dane County HIV/STI Program: (608) 243-0411
  • CDC
  • AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin: (608) 252-6540
  • UW Sexual Health Clinic: (608) 265-5600
  • Wisconsin HIV/STD/Hepatitis C Information & Referral Center: (800) 334-2437
  • American Sexual Health Association