By David Martin, PhD, ABPP (Senior Director, APA Office on AIDS)
June 27 is National HIV Testing Day. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 be tested at least once as part of routine medical care. People who have vaginal or anal sex without using a condom or consistently taking Truvada (a medication that can prevent HIV infection if taken as prescribed) every day, or who share injection drug equipment with someone who has HIV should be tested more frequently (in fact, they should be tested at regular intervals anyway). Here are 7 reasons why:
1. You might have HIV and not know it.
An estimated 1 in 6 people living with HIV in the United States don’t know that they have HIV. If you have had sex with someone you didn’t know or whose HIV status you didn’t know and you didn’t use a condom or if you haven’t consistently taken Truvada® every day as prescribed for Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), you may have HIV.
2. If you have HIV, it is better to start treatment before you get sick.
You don’t have to have symptoms to have HIV, but starting treatment before you develop symptoms could help you live longer with fewer health problems than if you delay. The only way to know if you should start treatment is to get tested.
3. If you have HIV and don’t know it, you can transmit it to people you have sex with.
If you have sex with someone you don’t know, you should always use condoms to prevent transmission of HIV and other sexually-transmitted diseases (STDs) to others and to keep from getting them yourself even if you are taking Truvada® for PrEP. If you have HIV, getting treatment can further reduce the possibility of transmission to someone else. Using a condom every time you have sex can be hard; getting treatment doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use condoms, but it can help reduce the risk of transmission if you accidentally forget and don’t.
4. Counseling after getting tested can help with planning for both positive and negative test results.
Counseling can help you make plans to avoid getting HIV if you are negative.
If you are positive, counseling can help you in making important decisions about getting treatment and in finding out about community resources that may help you cope with having HIV.
5. Finding out where to get tested is easy.
Just go to http://hivtest.cdc.gov/Default.aspx and type in your ZIP code.
6. There is life after HIV.
Many, if not most, people with HIV go on to live normal lives; they do have to take medication every day, but most are able to do so without major side effects and without major disruptions in their lives. They go to school, they work, they play, and they have relationships. That’s not to say that there aren’t challenges, there are. But having HIV is not a death sentence and HIV doesn’t have to take over your life. If you get treatment and stay on it, you can have a productive and meaningful life that is centered on other things that matter to you.
There are several resources to help you determine your risk for HIV, including