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The facts and nothing but the facts: Who needs an HIV test?

The facts and nothing but the facts: Who needs an HIV test?

For many people, HIV and other infections that are primarily sexually transmitted can be uncomfortable to talk about and sometimes even to think about. Let’s put HIV testing in a different light—being tested can be lifesaving.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 1.2 million Americans have HIV. Of that number, nearly 160,000 people don’t know they have the condition, and as a result, may be spreading the infection to others.

We’ve come a long way since the early and mid-1990s, when HIV was considered a bleak diagnosis. Since then, there have been many advancements in treatment.

June 27 is recognized each year as National HIV Testing Day. This commemoration began in 1995, deep in the middle of the HIV epidemic.

This year, as the date rolls around, take the opportunity to learn more about HIV testing. Our University Medical Center New Orleans team answers some common questions below.

Q: What’s the importance of HIV testing?

A: HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus, is a virus that attacks the cells in your body responsible for fending off infection. Those who have HIV are more susceptible to other infections, including everyday viruses, such as the common cold, and more complicated illnesses like tuberculosis.

Knowing your status is important because you can’t rely on symptoms to know if you are HIV positive. If you are tested and learn that you have HIV, you can take steps to protect your health and lower the risk of developing acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, commonly known as AIDS. Innovative medications can lower the amount of HIV in your blood, allowing you to live a long and healthy life. People who take HIV medication daily as prescribed can also achieve durable viral suppression, meaning they cannot transmit HIV to others.

Q: Are there different types of HIV tests?

A: There are three different types of HIV testing options:

  • Antibody tests, which look for antibodies to HIV in blood or oral fluid, can determine whether someone is HIV-infected between 23 and 90 days after exposure to the virus.
  • Antigen/antibody tests, which look for both HIV antibodies and antigens, can usually detect HIV 18 to 45 days after exposure.
  • Nucleic acid tests (NATs), which look for the HIV virus itself in the blood, are often used for those who have potentially been exposed but had negative results on other types of HIV tests. NATs can tell you your HIV status 10 to 33 days after exposure.

Being tested for HIV is quick and relatively easy. There are some self-tests you can administer at home, you can have testing done by your medical provider or you can find a testing site, such as the health department in your area.

It’s important to note that HIV tests can only confirm the presence of HIV, not AIDS. Results of many HIV tests are available within 20 to 30 minutes, though NATs and some antigen/antibody tests can take several days to confirm results.

Q: Who should be tested for HIV?

A: The CDC recommends that everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 be tested at least once as part of routine medical care.

The CDC recommends more frequent testing for people at higher risk of HIV exposure. This includes those who use injectable illegal drugs and share syringes, those who have more than one sexual partner, those who have had sex with someone they don’t know.

Q: How often should you have an HIV test?

A: You may want to have an HIV test as part of your annual checkup, or you may want to be tested more frequently.

The decision on when to test and how frequently to test for HIV is one best made in consultation with a trusted medical provider. Talk with your primary care provider who knows your medical history and is familiar with your lifestyle.

If you aren’t sure whether to be tested, it’s never a bad thing to have an HIV test. Consider being tested one key part of preventing HIV spread in those you love and your community.

Q: What happens if you test positive for HIV?

A: A follow-up test can be done if you test positive for HIV. Once your healthcare provider is certain that you have HIV, your provider will work with you to begin treatment as soon as possible.

The Infectious Disease Services of University Medical Center New Orleans includes an HIV Outpatient Program commonly known as HOP. Your primary care provider can refer you to our HOP clinic or you can call the clinic directly at 504.702.4344 and schedule an appointment.

Your primary care provider can help you keep an eye on your overall health. If it’s been a while since you saw yours, schedule a primary care appointment today!