Each year on June 27, National HIV Testing Awareness Day offers us an opportunity to pay special attention to the value of HIV testing. About one-quarter of the Americans living with HIV are women, so we want to make sure you’re fully informed about HIV testing.
Getting tested for HIV makes sense because early detection can protect you and your sexual partners. And if you have HIV, treatment could help you live a longer, healthier life.
Wondering if you should be tested? Here’s what you need to know.
What is HIV?
HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that spreads via sexual contact or intravenous drug use. It can enter your body through contact with the semen, blood, vaginal fluids, rectal fluids, or breast milk of another person who has HIV.
HIV attacks and destroys your immune system, making it harder for your body to fight off infection and disease. Without treatment, HIV can progress to acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), which is the most advanced stage of HIV infection.
What kind of testing is used to detect HIV?
Typically, Women’s Healthcare of Princeton uses a routine blood test to check for HIV. A saliva test may also be used.
Can I use a home HIV test?
You can, but we recommend having your HIV test here in our office rather than doing it yourself at home. That way, we can provide you with education and support as well as any other routine or specialized health care you may need.
How accurate are HIV tests?
Tests performed by experienced healthcare providers are very accurate. However, if a test is done too soon after exposure it may not show the presence of HIV. This “window period” between exposure and a positive test result can be anywhere from 10-90 days, depending on several different factors.
Who should be tested for HIV?
Everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 should be tested at least once as part of your routine health care, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, if you’re at higher risk of HIV infection, you should be tested more often. We can advise you on how often to be tested.
You should be tested for HIV right away if you are sexually assaulted because immediate treatment can prevent HIV infection.
What would raise my risk of HIV infection?
Several factors increase your chances of being exposed to HIV, such as:
- Having sex (especially vaginal or anal sex) with people whose HIV status you don’t know
- Having sex with someone who has a high risk of getting HIV
- Using injected drugs and sharing needles and other drug equipment with other people
- Having sexually transmitted infections, hepatitis, or tuberculosis
Why should I have an HIV test now — can’t it wait?
If you test positive for HIV, starting treatment right away can help you remain healthy for as long as possible. Many people with HIV live a long life, thanks to treatment with antiretroviral therapy. The earlier HIV is detected, the sooner treatment can start helping and the more likely you are to have a good outcome.
Knowing you have HIV also allows you to take steps to protect others from becoming infected. Unfortunately, 40% of new HIV infections are transmitted by people who don’t know they have HIV.
Being tested for HIV and getting a negative result — meaning the test detects no HIV in your blood — can serve as an occasion for a fresh start if you sometimes engage in risky behavior.
I’m pregnant. Do I need an HIV test?
It’s smart to have an HIV test before you get pregnant, or as early as possible in your pregnancy. Without treatment, women with HIV can transmit the virus to their babies. But if you receive treatment for HIV, the chance of mother-to-baby infection goes way down.
Where can I learn more about HIV testing?
You can come to Women’s Healthcare of Princeton for HIV testing and other healthcare needs. Dr. Sophocles, Dr. Mathews, and our team of providers can answer your questions about HIV testing and help you decide whether to be tested.
We’re dedicated to providing quality health care in a compassionate and nurturing environment. To make an appointment, call our office or click the “book online” button.