Even if you think you’re not at high risk for HIV, here’s when you should get tested – and why.
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a virus that attacks the body’s immune system. When the immune system is compromised, it makes it more difficult for the body to fight off other diseases. If left untreated, HIV can lead to AIDS, which results in the immune system being severely and irreparably damaged.
It’s estimated that 1 in 7 people in the United States who have HIV do not realize they have it. Many people experience no symptoms with HIV at first. Those who do have symptoms may not know their symptoms are caused by HIV, since the symptoms are initially flu-like (fever, chills, fatigue, sore throat, etc.) and can be attributed to other illnesses.
“The CDC recommends that everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 should be tested for HIV, at least once in their lifetime, but more if risk factors are present. It is so important to know your status, and you cannot know without being tested. Baton Rouge is repeatedly in the top 5 IN THE COUNTRY regarding new HIV infection.”
There is no cure for HIV, and there’s no vaccine. But if HIV is caught early, it can be effectively treated with medication. Treatment stops the disease from progressing and from spreading. That’s why it’s so important for you to get tested, even if you don’t think you have the virus or don’t think you’re in a high-risk group.
“With the development of PrEP (pre-exposure prohphylaxis), we are now able to offer HIV prevention to those that are high risk for infection but are currently HIV negative. Expanding access to PrEP has shown to decrease new HIV cases and is a good way to have healthy discussions regarding safe sex practices.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 get tested for HIV at least once in their lifetime as part of their routine preventive health care. They also recommend more frequent testing if you meet any of the criteria listed below.
- You have multiple sexual partners. It’s nearly impossible to know the sexual history of every sexual partner, so always use a condom, which helps prevent against HIV and other diseases. Use a lubricant to keep the condom from breaking.
- You are a man who has sex with other men. Research shows that the HIV transmission rate during anal sex is 18 times higher than during vaginal sex. The CDC recommends that gay and bisexual men get tested every 3 to 6 months if they have multiple partners.
- You inject drugs. Never share needles, syringes or other drug-injection equipment with others since HIV can be spread in this way. If you have a substance use disorder, consider talking to your doctor about treatment options.
- You were diagnosed with another sexually transmitted disease (STD), hepatitis or tuberculosis. You may be more likely to get, or to transmit, HIV if you’ve had one of these diseases.
- You are newly monogamous and plan to stay that way. Once you’ve found your partner for life, both of you should get tested to ensure you’re starting with a clean slate.
- You are pregnant or plan on getting pregnant. If you have HIV, you can pass it to your baby during labor and delivery, and your baby will then be infected for life. You can also transmit HIV to your baby during breastfeeding.
Talk to your doctor about getting tested for HIV. It’s a quick and easy test done using blood, saliva or urine. Costs vary, depending on your insurance. Some community health centers, substance abuse programs and other organizations also offer testing and it may be free. To find an HIV test near you, visit https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/basics/hiv-testing/finding-tests.html.
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Date Last Reviewed: April 16, 2021
Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor
Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD