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HIV Prevention: Testing

HIV antibody testing is available free of charge at HIV test sites located throughout the state to people at risk for HIV. The HIV antibody test detects the presence of antibodies to HIV by using a simple blood or oral fluid test. This is not a test for AIDS. The test does not tell you if you have AIDS; it does show if you have been infected with HIV which can cause AIDS.

How to Stay Free from HIV

HIV infection doesn't just happen. You can't catch it like a cold or flu. You won't get it through everyday contact with infected people at work, school, home or anywhere else. You get HIV by exposure to infected blood, semen or vaginal fluids from another person.

HIV has spread around the world. You can't hide from it if you have sex, but you can protect yourself.

    1. Abstain from sex or remain in a mutually exclusive relationship.
    2. Get tested so you and your partner know your status.
    3. Avoid exchange of body fluids. A latex condom can help.
    4. Never share needles.

For more information on preventing HIV see the About HIV section.

What about counseling?

Because HIV antibody testing has the potential to cause emotional, social and legal problems, counseling is part of the testing procedure.

Who should consider testing?

If you answer "yes" to any of the following questions, you could be infected with HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases.

Have you ever had unprotected sex (anal, vaginal or oral) with a man or woman who:

  • You know was infected with HIV?
  • Injects or has injected drugs?
  • Shared needles with someone who was infected?
  • Had sex with someone who shared needles?
  • Had multiple sex partners?
  • You normally wouldn't have sex with?
  • Have had sex under the influence of drugs or alcohol?
  • Have had a sexually transmitted disease (STD), including pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)?

Did you or any of your partners:

  • Receive treatment for hemophilia from 1978 through 1985?
  • Have a blood transfusion or organ transplant from 1978 through 1985?

Have you used needles or syringes that were used by anyone before you?

Have you ever given or received sex for drugs or money?

If you have had sex with someone whose history of sex partners and/or drug use is unknown to you or if you or your partner has had many sex partners, then you have more of a chance of being infected with HIV. Both you and your new partner should get tested for HIV, and learn the results, before having sex for the first time.

For women who plan to become pregnant, testing is even more important. If a woman is infected with HIV, medical care and certain drugs given during pregnancy can lower the chance of passing HIV to her baby. All women who are pregnant should be tested during each pregnancy.

Even if you have no risk factors for HIV infection, you may still want to get tested to ease your own mind. This also encourages everyone to be more responsible about HIV transmission.

When should I be tested?

After a possible HIV exposure:

An HIV test will not detect the presence of HIV antibodies immediately after exposure. It can take some time for the immune system to produce enough antibodies for the antibody test to detect, and this time period can vary from person to person. This time period is commonly referred to as the “window period.” According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most people will develop detectable antibodies within two to eight weeks (the average is 25 days), with 97 percent of persons developing antibodies in the first three months following the time of their infection. Even so, there is a chance that some individuals will take longer to develop detectable antibodies. In some cases, this may take up to six months.

Therefore, if the initial negative HIV test was conducted within the first three months after possible exposure, repeat testing should be considered six months after the exposure occurred to account for the possibility of a false-negative result.

If you are beyond the six-month window period from a possible HIV transmission event and were reported HIV negative by an accurate HIV test (and you are not subsequently put at risk for HIV), you can consider yourself HIV negative. There is no need to retest. However, if it eases your anxiety, you may wish to take the test again periodically.

Periodic Testing:

Many people continue to engage in some degree of risky behavior, and choose to be tested for HIV periodically, such as every six months or once a year.

Since the window period for developing a positive test result can be as long as six months, it is not necessary to be tested more often than this.

There are clear benefits to early medical attention for infection with the HIV virus. There is little agreement on how early this must be. But if you wait longer than two years, treatment of the disease may be less effective.

Test Procedure

In North Dakota, confidential HIV testing is conducted. Confidentiality is an agreement that information about you will not be disclosed without your consent. To take the test, you need to make an appointment at one of the test sites listed on this website. Testing, counseling and referral services are free at all test sites.

There are two types of HIV screening tests available, conventional and rapid.

Conventional testing

Conventional testing is a screening test performed with either blood drawn from a vein or an oral fluid test. North Dakota uses the OraSure device which uses oral fluid (not saliva) that is collected from the mouth using a special collection device.

The first visit will take about 30 minutes; test results will be available in five to seven days. On your second visit, the HIV counselor who collected the test specimen will give you the test results and explain them to you in private. Test results are not given over the telephone or sent in the mail.

Rapid testing

A rapid test is a screening test that is performed using blood from a fingerstick. Results are available within 20 minutes. The visit will take about 30 minutes and your test results will be delivered during this counseling session.

Confirmatory testing

If any screening test (conventional or rapid) is positive, a confirmatory test must be performed to rule out the possibility of a false positive result. Blood will be drawn from a vein for the confirmatory test. The results will be available in five to seven days. The HIV counselor who collected the test specimen will give you the test results and explain them to you in private. Test results are not given over the telephone or sent in the mail.

Test Results and What They Mean

WHAT DOES A NEGATIVE TEST RESULT MEAN? A negative test result means no HIV antibodies have been found in your blood or oral fluid because:

  • You have not been infected with the virus.
  • You are infected, but your body has not yet produced sufficient antibodies to result in a positive test. Antibodies may not develop for several weeks. You could still pass the infection on to others, even if you haven't tested positive. A negative test result does not mean you can't be infected in the future.

WHAT DOES A POSITIVE CONFIRMATORY TEST RESULT MEAN? A positive confirmatory test result means HIV antibodies have been found in your blood or oral fluid. You have been infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. You can pass the virus to other people during vaginal, anal or oral sex or while sharing drug needles. If you are pregnant or become pregnant, you could pass the virus on to your baby.