Today is National HIV Testing Day, which highlights the importance of getting tested for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. But the sentiment behind National HIV Testing Day extends to every day. If you’re at risk of contracting HIV, getting tested for HIV and knowing your HIV status is important so that you and your partner(s) can stay healthy and informed.
So who’s at risk? Anyone can be at risk of contracting HIV if they’re not careful. If you’re sexually active and/or use recreational drugs, you should be tested regularly; additionally, if you’re considered high-risk (including but not limited to sexually active younger teenagers, men who have sex with men, sex workers, and those who snort or inject drugs with other people), it is especially important that you get tested regularly. Click here to see who’s most at risk.
While the thought of getting tested for HIV can be scary, what’s even scarier is not knowing your HIV status. One in five Americans living with HIV is unaware that they have it; those people are not getting the care and treatment they need for HIV, and they’re also at risk of unknowingly infecting their sexual partners or anyone with whom they use recreational drugs.
There are two kinds of HIV tests available: antibody tests and viral load tests. These are blood tests, and generally you’ll get the test results back in a couple weeks. (There is also a quick-result oral swab test, which can give results in mere minutes, but is not available everywhere.) These tests can be taken anonymously or confidentially. Anonymous testing (not available in all states) is often free, doesn’t require or retain your personal information, and includes helpful pre-test and post-test counseling, while in confidential testing, the testing facility keeps your name on record and allows your test results to be released to limited entities (for instance, your insurance company).
There are many convenient resources available for HIV testing. If you’d like to get tested by someone you already know and are comfortable with, you can get tested for HIV by your primary care physician. If you would rather not go to your family doctor for HIV testing, there are numerous clinics nationwide that can administer HIV testing. You can use the following resources to locate a clinic near you:
* HIVtest.org can help you find a testing location.
You can also test yourself using FDA-approved self-test kits such as those made by Home Access, which are available in drugstores and pharmacies, although you’ll want to note that self-testing doesn’t give you the benefit of pre- and post-test counseling.
It can take up to six months for HIV to be able to be detected during testing. If you get tested before six months have passed since the last time you engaged in any activity during which you were at risk for contracting HIV, you should test again once that six month mark has passed so that you are 100% sure that your test results are accurate.
While the thought of getting tested for HIV can be scary and intimidating, especially if you haven’t done it before, it’s important to remember that having your test results allows you to become empowered. If your test results are positive, you can get started working with your doctor to come up with an HIV treatment plan that’s right for you, and you can inform any sexual or recreational drug use partners of your HIV status so that you can work together on methods to keep your partners safe. If your results are negative, you can breathe a sigh of relief and focus on learning about how you can practice safer sex and/or safer recreational drug use —and then the next time you undergo routine HIV testing, it likely won’t be such an intimidating process for you.