HIV is one of the most prevalent STDs in the United States as well as worldwide. Almost 1 million people in the United States are HIV positive, with nearly 1 in 7 being unaware of their HIV status.
Unfortunately, getting tested for HIV is the only way to determine if you are HIV positive. It's quick, private, and painless - and in most cases free. Antiviral drugs against HIV are available if the test is positive, and the sooner you start treatment, the better the disease prognosis.
There are multiple testing modalities available for HIV. Most clinics and local testing agencies offer cheap or free testing facilities. Your insurance, if you have it, may also cover HIV testing costs.
WHY DO YOU NEED TO GET TESTED?
HIV testing is crucial, especially for high-risk individuals. You can have HIV and not know your status, making testing essential in some scenarios.
High-risk individuals are people who have a greater than average chance of contracting the virus. You're a high-risk individual for HIV if you:
- Had unprotected sex
- Had unprotected sex with a high-risk individual
- Had unprotected vaginal, oral, or anal sex with multiple sexual partners
- Are a man who engages in homosexual intercourse
- Participate in transactional sex
- Have been sexually assaulted
- Have recently been diagnosed with another STD
- Have shared needles or other injecting equipment
- Use IV drugs, including steroids and hormones
Getting tested for HIV is more beneficial than you think. First of all, knowing your HIV status is essential because it helps you stay prepared for what's to come. If you have HIV and are diagnosed early, you will be treated by your doctor much more efficiently with medication.
Your doctor can start prompt treatment as soon as the diagnosis is made. Early treatment helps you keep your viral load down to undetectable levels. Undetectable viral loads are an indication of positive health status. There is also a reduced chance of spreading HIV if you have an undetectable viral load.
Knowing your HIV status also helps to protect your partners. If they are aware of your HIV status, they can take extra precautions. For example, they can take PrEP therapy to prevent any chance of infection during sexual intercourse.
HOW FREQUENTLY SHOULD YOU GET TESTED?
As per the recommendation of the Center for Disease Control, every individual between the ages of 13 and 64 should get an HIV test done at least once as part of their routine healthcare. High-risk individuals should get tests done annually. Sexually active bisexual and homosexual men should get tested every three to six months.
It's important to get tested because most people aren't aware of their status. Knowing if you are HIV positive or not will allow you to take the necessary precautions and medication. One scenario where it is important to know your status is if you are pregnant or trying to conceive. Pregnant women carry the risk of transmitting the infection to their baby during delivery and breastfeeding, and taking the right antivirals can minimize disease transmission to the baby.
Currently, no cure for HIV exists, and the treatment for HIV aims to reduce the body's viral load. Therefore, frequent testing for HIV helps in effective management since your doctor can start early treatment if you turn out to be HIV positive.
HOW IS HIV DETECTED INSIDE YOUR BODY?
The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a virus that infects our immune system. It destroys white blood cells, the CD4 type of helper T-cells. The virus takes over the host machinery to produce genetic copies of itself. Within 10-15 years, the immune system is destroyed to the extent it can’t fight off any infection.
The virus can be found in
- Vaginal fluids
- Anal fluids
The tests offered for HIV testing use these samples to amplify or multiply whatever viral genetic material is present in our body.
WHAT KINDS OF TESTS ARE AVAILABLE FOR THE DIAGNOSIS OF HIV?
Three different types of HIV tests are available. They show results in different time frames, depending on whether you used blood or saliva for testing.
Nucleic acid amplification tests detect the actual virus present in the body and detect infection around 10-30 days after exposure. It isn't commonly applied because of how expensive it can be.
Antibody tests detect antibodies in blood samples and oral fluids. They're also called third-generation HIV tests. Antibody tests may take up to 3 months to detect an HIV infection. Most of the rapid HIV home tests are antibody tests. They are also the only FDA-approved HIV home testing kits available in the market.
This test, also called a fourth-generation test, looks for both the antigen and the antibody. Antibodies are chemicals released by the white blood cells of the immune system to fight off an infection. Antigens, on the other hand, are foreign substances that activate our immune response.
WHAT IS HIV SELF-TESTING?
HIV self-testing kits use the antibody detection method to detect if you are HIV positive or not. You can take a blood sample directly from a simple finger prick. Most self-testing kits also work with oral swab samples.
Self-testing HIV kits help you take the test in the comfort of your own home. Self-testing is not globally approved, so it's important to buy testing kits that have been approved by the CE (Europe) or the FDA (United States).
Although you will be getting your test results within 15 minutes, you will still need to get tested by a healthcare provider to confirm the diagnosis and start treatment.
WHAT HAPPENS IF I TEST POSITIVE FOR HIV?
If you happen to test positive, your healthcare provider will put you on an antiviral treatment called anti-retroviral treatment (ART). This treatment isn't a cure, however, it helps keep the viral infection suppressed so you can continue living a healthy life.
ART helps the body by preventing the virus from making copies of itself, decreasing the amount of virus in your body, and helping prevent damage to the immune system. Once the viral load is low enough, it even helps in preventing transmission.
If you have been exposed to the virus recently by using unsterilized needles and instruments or through an unsafe sexual encounter, you will be given post-exposure prophylaxis (nPEP) within 72 hours of the encounter.
Remember, you can only improve your quality of life if you get tested regularly and catch the disease before it progresses. A lot of people can live normal lives after starting treatment early.