The only way to know if you have HIV is to get tested. Educating yourself on HIV and knowing your status allows you to protect yourself and any of your sexual partners.
June 27th marked the 24th National HIV Testing Day. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that people between 13 and 64 years old get tested for HIV at least once in their lifetime. More frequent testing may be an important step to keep yourself healthy. This year’s theme is #DoingItMyWay, a call to action for people to get tested in a way they feel comfortable, such as in a health care setting, at a testing event, or even at home.
There are three different types of tests that are used to test for HIV infection:
- Antibody tests – check for HIV antibodies in your blood or oral fluid. Rapid tests and home tests are antibody tests.
- Antigen/antibody tests – checks for both HIV antibodies and HIV antigens in your blood.
- NATs (nucleic acid test) – checks for HIV in your blood
Your initial HIV test will typically be either an antibody test or an antigen/antibody test. NATs are not used for routine HIV screening unless you have had a high-risk exposure or have had any possible exposure with early symptoms with HIV infection. A test referred to as the 4th generation test includes having your blood drawn. There is the finger stick test called Oraquick that takes 15-20 minutes to provide you with results. INSTI is another finger stick test that takes 1-5 minutes to provide results. Orasure is an oral swab test that you can buy at your local pharmacy that takes about 15-20 minutes to get results. It is best to discuss with your healthcare provider about what would be the best HIV test for you.
Why is it important to get tested?
Knowing your status is important. You cannot rely on symptoms to know whether you are HIV positive or not. You can look and feel healthy and still have HIV. Getting tested and learning that you have HIV will also allow you to stay healthy and live longer by being able to get the treatment and care that you need. If you see your doctor regularly and take your HIV medication (antiretroviral therapy) as directed, you can live longer and more comfortable lives following your HIV diagnosis.
How do I get ready for this test?
There is nothing you need to do beforehand to prepare for an HIV test. If you ever have to go to the emergency room, you can ask for an HIV test when there or you can ask to be tested when visiting your primary care doctor. Discuss with your healthcare provider your sexual activities, your current medications, and any possible drug use. Being honest with your healthcare provider will allow them to provide you with the best possible care customized for you.
What do your test results mean?
Your healthcare provider will sit with you and discuss your results with you based on which type of HIV test you had done. Your test results might be negative, or they might be positive for HIV. Though rare, there is a possibility for you to receive an indeterminate test result. Indeterminate or inconclusive results mean that the test did not provide a negative or positive result. If you receive such a result your healthcare provider will have you tested again to get a clear result.
What happens if you test negative for HIV?
It is important to know your full status regarding your health and to also get tested for other STIs (sexually transmitted infections) like chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis. STIs are treatable. Active STIs put you at a greater chance of acquiring HIV. After a negative HIV test you might consider protecting yourself through PrEP (this stands for pre-exposure prophylaxis). PrEP is a pill that can be taken every day to help significantly lower your chances of acquiring HIV. PrEP can be prescribed by your primary care provider and is also available as part of the Infectious Disease Center at University Medical Center
What happens if you test positive for HIV?
A follow-up test can be done if you test positive for HIV. Once your healthcare provider is certain that you have HIV, your provider will work with you to begin treatment as soon as possible. Treatment options today include single tablet regimens, making it much easier to take the medicine as directed and to suppress the virus in the body to such low levels that the virus is undetectable in blood tests. When a person has had an undetectable viral load for at least six months and maintains good adherence, there is effectively no risk that he or she will sexually transmit the virus. This is known as “Undetectable equals Untransmittable” or “U equals U.”
University Medical Center's Infectious Disease Center includes an HIV Outpatient Program commonly known as HOP. Your healthcare provider can refer you to our HOP clinic or you can call the clinic directly at 504.702.4344 and schedule an appointment.
Many services are available to people who receive their primary medical care with HOP. Some of the services include social services, behavioral health, dental care, health education, nutrition education, lab services, dental services, and medication assistance. Specialty services may also include women’s health services, pain management, lung and breathing management, and oncology services.Please call 504.702.4344 to make an appointment or refer someone to the ID Center/HOP clinic today.