Everyone Should Get Tested For HIV

23 06 2011

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?

By Emily Willingham

Memorial Day

28 05 2010

It just takes one. One friend or brother, one parent or child. Lose one person you love to war, and you know what Memorial Day is all about.

Memorial Day started perhaps during the Civil War, when women decorated the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers.  After all, it used to be called Decoration Day. But, no one really knows who started it, or where, and it’s probable that it was borne from the zeitgeist of the time.

A few years after the Civil War ended, in May of 1868, Decoration Day was established by a group of Union veterans as a day for the graves of the fallen to be decorated with flowers. The 30th of May was chosen as a day when flowers around the country would most likely be in bloom.

In 1971, Congress declared Memorial Day a national holiday and moved it to the last Monday in May.

Have you seen the red poppies worn by some on Memorial Day? That tradition started with Moina Michael and her poem “We Shall Keep Faith” (which was itself inspired by “In Flander’s Fields,” a poem by John McCrae):

We cherish too, the Poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led,
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies.

In 2000, Congress established the National Moment of Remembrance, when at 3pm local time, on Memorial Day, Americans across the country stop for one moment to honor and remember those who’ve died for this country.

And so we come to the end of this brief history of Memorial Day. I want to buy a red poppy and pause for a moment, at 3pm on Monday, to think of those gone too soon.