June 27, 2011, is the 17th annual National HIV Testing Day. It follows on the passing of the 30th anniversary of the day the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced a deadly new syndrome, acquired immune deficiency syndrome, or AIDS. Three decades later, many things have changed about infection with HIV, including life expectancy, groups that it infects the most, and ever-evolving treatment successes.
Why get tested? Because the earlier you get treated, the better it is for you and for people at risk of acquiring infection from you. People who are under treatment are less likely to pass HIV to others than people who are going untreated. Without getting tested, you can’t know if you’re infected. Without getting treatment, you can’t keep yourself healthy or avoid endangering others.
You may be thinking that you’re someone who doesn’t need to get tested. Think again. The CDC says that everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 should be tested at least once. If you’re sexually active or engaged in recreational drugs, you need to be tested. There are, of course, groups at higher risk for infection. According to the National Association of People with AIDS, these groups include:
- younger sexually active teens
- poor women of color
- men who have sex with men
- people who inject or snort drugs with others
- sex workers or people who barter in sex for life necessities
- people who live in HIV “hot spots,” places where infection rates are so high that anyone who is sexually active is at risk. These hotspots can sometimes encompass only a few city blocks.
How can you get tested? Depends on how you want to do it. It’s possible to test at home, sending in blood from a finger prick to a lab for analysis. You can buy such kits at drugstores, but doing it on your own means that you won’t receive appropriate counseling if the result comes back positive. In some places, people can get tested anonymously and still receive counseling. But for National HIV Testing Day, testing events are happening all over the United States. If you’re interested in finding a testing site near you, check this interactive map.
Each of the two types of tests available—one tests for antibodies the body makes if the virus is present, the other tests for the virus itself—requires only a blood draw or even just an oral swab for antibody testing. If you think you’ve recently been exposed to HIV, the viral load testing is the test you need. You can’t rely on the antibody test results if 3 to 6 months haven’t elapsed since exposure, as it takes that long for the antibodies to register.
An HIV test doesn’t take much investment in terms of money or blood or even time. But even in this age of improved therapies and life expectancies with infection, the results can literally mean life or death, not only for you but maybe for someone you love. If you haven’t been tested, isn’t that reason enough to make June 27, 2011, your day to get it done?