On December 1, the entire globe recognizes World AIDS Day.
It’s an important time for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV, show support for people living with HIV, and to commemorate those who have died from an AIDS-related illness.
Today, one in seven of people who are infected with HIV are not aware they have the virus and are at risk of spreading it to others. If left untreated, the virus can progress to AIDS, a deadly and incurable disease.
AIDS, or Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, can occur in the later stages of an HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) infection when a person’s immune system is too weak to fight off the virus.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates more than one million people in the United States are living with HIV.
This is why testing remains so important.
Here is some important information about HIV testing and prevention you should know:
Who should be tested for HIV?
The CDC recommends that everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 get tested for HIV at least once in a lifetime as part of routine healthcare. If you have specific risk factors, you may need to be tested more frequently. Risk factors include:
- If you are a man who has sex with other men, has sex without a condom or has multiple partners, then the CDC recommends getting tested for HIV every three to six months.
- If you are an African American man or woman or a Hispanic/Latino man, testing is a high priority.
How do you get tested for HIV?
To get tested, ask your doctor during your next visit to order an HIV test for you. Your doctor will refer you to a lab for testing and help you schedule an appointment. Quest Diagnostics, a leading provider of HIV testing, has over 2,200 Patient Service Centers across the United States where you can get tested for HIV.
A simple blood test will search for HIV antibodies (a substance the body produces when it’s fighting something it views as a threat, like the HIV virus) and/or HIV antigens (which are parts of the virus, itself). The test results are sent back to the doctor’s office to be shared with the patient.
What happens if someone tests positive for HIV?
Most people test negative for HIV. But the introduction of new therapies and advances in HIV means that it is possible for people who are HIV-positive to live a long, healthy lives. In some ways, being HIV-positive is similar to managing any other chronic disease. However, it is vital for people who are HIV-positive to strictly adhere to their medicines so they can suppress the virus to prevent complications.
Additionally, it’s important for them to have regular check-ins with their doctor and be tested every three to six months to assess the amount of HIV in their blood. They also need to protect those with whom they are in close contact from contracting the disease from them.
If you are not HIV positive, what can you do to continue to protect yourself?
For those who do not test positive, there are ways to continue to protect yourself from becoming infected with HIV.
- Get tested regularly for HIV and talk to your partner about doing the same. Ask your partner to share their HIV test results with you before you engage in sexual activity.
- Use condoms when having sex. When used properly, condoms are highly effective in preventing HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.
- Talk to your health care provider about PrEP, or pre-exposure prophylaxis. For those who are at high risk for HIV or simply want to be proactive, PrEP is a daily medicine that lowers the chances of contracting HIV. It’s an important preventative tool that can help people who are HIV-negative remain negative even if their partner is HIV-positive.