HIV/AIDS 101

Get tested. An estimated one in five Americans with HIV does not know they are infected. Early diagnosis saves lives. Make testing a part of your routine health care and get tested today!

Who should get tested for HIV?

The CDC recommends everyone know their HIV status and that means getting tested. More frequent testing is recommended for people of higher risk, including gay and bisexual men. The CDC has stated that men who have sex with men might benefit from being tested for HIV every 3 to 6 months.

This does not mean, however, that testing is done automatically when you see a health care provider, even if you have blood drawn. Many health care providers don’t test unless you ask to be tested, and the only way to know for sure is if you have discussed it.

HIV testing is also recommended for all pregnant women as a routine part of prenatal care. A woman who has HIV and is pregnant can take certain medications during pregnancy that, combined with medical care, can significantly lower the chances of passing HIV to her baby and are important for her health.

How does an HIV test work?

Most HIV tests check for antibodies that the body produces once infected with HIV. Antibodies are proteins that the immune system produces to fight off all different kinds of infections, including HIV. If an HIV test detects HIV antibodies, a person is infected with HIV.

If antibodies are not present, a person is likely not HIV infected. But, it can take weeks for the body to develop enough antibodies to be measurable on a test. The time period between HIV exposure and a positive test is called the “window period,” during which you could test negative for HIV but still be infected with HIV and able to transmit the virus to others. Your health care provider who provides the test can advise as to whether retesting may be recommended.

What kinds of tests are available?

There are several different types of HIV tests, but the two most common types are blood tests and oral swab tests. If you have a preference ask your health care provider. A version of the oral test that can be taken at home is also now available for sale in many drug stores.

HIV blood tests use a sample of blood, either from a finger prick or a larger sample often taken from the inner arm, to test for antibodies… Oral tests use a swab to collect cells from inside the mouth to test for HIV antibodies.

Traditional HIV test results can take one to two weeks to come back from a lab, but rapid tests are now widely available that can provide a result in about 20 minutes.

Is an HIV test part of my routine physical?

Even though HIV testing is recommended as part of routine medical care, many doctors do not offer testing for HIV (or other STDs) unless you specifically ask to be tested.

If you are not comfortable talking with your regular health care provider about HIV and other STDs, or if you don’t have a regular health care provider, there are many clinics that specialize in providing HIV testing.

Who has access to my results?

Most HIV tests are confidential. This means that the results will be included in your medical record, as are the results for any other type of test. If you test positive for HIV, your result will also be shared with your state’s health department for purposes of monitoring trends in the HIV epidemic. Also, remember that if you do test positive, it is very important for you to work closely with your doctor to get the care and treatment you need.

You can also get tested anonymously, where your name is not linked to your test results. However, anonymous testing sites are not available in all states and at all locations. Home HIV finger prick tests and oral tests, which you can purchase in a drug store or online, are also anonymous.

How much does an HIV test cost?

The cost of HIV testing varies. Community clinics that offer tests for free or on a sliding scale are available in most areas. Also, the cost of an HIV test may be covered by health insurance, if you have it. Call ahead to your doctor or local clinic to find out how they charge for HIV tests, or to your health insurance provider to see if the test is covered.

Will I be tested if I donate blood?

When you donate blood, your blood is tested for HIV and other infections to make sure it is safe for others to receive. This kind of testing is why the blood supply of the United States and other developed countries is so safe. Any blood found to be unhealthy in some way is not used.

However, this is not a good way you to learn your HIV status – If you want to be sure of your HIV status, the best way to find out is to get an HIV test. The results from HIV testing are more timely, and a care provider can link you to the right kind of care and resources if you do test positive.

What if I test positive for HIV?

With the availability of treatments today, you can lead a long and healthy life as an HIV positive person.

With the availability of treatments today, you can lead a long and healthy life as an HIV positive person.

The most important thing to do if you test positive is to see a doctor and get connected with services and support as soon as possible. Advances in HIV/AIDS treatment are occurring all the time, and medical treatment and a healthy lifestyle can help you stay well much longer than in the early years of the epidemic. But the longer you wait after testing positive to see a health care provider, the greater your chance of developing serious health problems.

Antiretroviral treatments work to lower the amount of HIV in the body which, when taken regularly, means better health, a longer life and less chance of spreading the disease to others. Early diagnosis and treatment can also delay the progression of HIV to AIDS. The Department of Health and Human Services recommends antiretroviral treatment for everyone who is HIV positive. If you’ve tested positive, here are some important steps to take to protect your health:

See a doctor, even if you don’t feel sick. If possible, see a doctor who has experience treating HIV. Consulting someone about your treatment options is the first step towards staying healthy.

Find a support system. The emotional and physical challenges ahead can be difficult, and having people around to help is important. Ask your doctor about counselors and support groups that can help you.

Talk with your partner(s). Tell your sexual partner/s about your HIV status and make sure you reduce your risk of transmitting the virus by practicing safer sex, including using latex condoms or dental dams each and every time you have sex.

I tested negative, now what?

The most important thing to do if you test negative is to stay negative. Use condoms each and every time you have sex–vaginal, anal, or oral–no exceptions. Get tested regularly, talk to your partners about HIV and ask that they get tested with you. You want to make sure that they know you’re watching out for their health and yours. If you use needles, don’t share them.

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