HIV Screening

The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) affects an estimated 1.1 million people in the United States, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). It is also estimated that one in seven people suffering from HIV do not even know that they are HIV-positive.

Because many people are not aware of their HIV status, many new people can unknowingly be exposed to HIV. Therefore, it is very important that everyone be tested so that the spread of HIV can be greatly reduced and that treatment can begin for those infected.

What is HIV?

HIV is a virus that attacks the body’s immune system, making it increasingly difficult for the body to fight off diseases and infections. HIV is spread through certain bodily fluids, including blood, seminal fluid and vaginal fluid, although there are additional types of fluids that can transmit HIV. However, saliva does not carry HIV. There is not cure for HIV, but there are treatments that can slow the progression of HIV and help to control the symptoms. If treatment is not started, the HIV may get progressively worse and turn into acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), which is the most serious stage of an HIV infection.

While you may not have any symptoms after first being infected with HIV, after a few weeks you may start to experience flu-like symptoms. The only way to accurately determine whether or not you are HIV positive is to have an HIV screening done as soon as possible as a preventive care measure.

Who should be screened?

It is recommended that everyone between 13 and 64 years of age be tested for HIV at least once as part of a general routine checkup. However, certain people should be screened for HIV more regularly if they are at a higher risk for developing HIV. It is recommended that you are tested at least once a year if you:

  • Are a man who has had sex with another man or you are a woman who has had a male partner who has had sex with another man.
  • Have had unprotected sex with an HIV-positive partner.
  • Have had sex with more than one partner.
  • Inject drugs with needles.
  • Have sex for money or drugs.
  • Have been diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection (STD), tuberculosis or hepatitis.
  • Have had sex with someone whose sexual history you do not know.

If you are a man that has sex with men, you may need to get tested for HIV more frequently than once a year. Your doctor may recommend getting tested every three to six months, so speak with your doctor or nurse to determine what is best for your personal situation. Make sure to speak with your doctor if you have any questions about activities that may require HIV testing.

In addition, if you are a pregnant woman, you should speak with your doctor about getting tested as well so that you can learn about how to protect both you and your baby from getting HIV. If you are pregnant and HIV-positive, there are treatment options available that should be started as soon as possible to decrease your chances of passing on HIV to your baby.

Types of HIV Screening Tests

There are three different types of HIV screening tests available, and each one varies slightly, so it is important to speak with your health care provider to determine which test is best for you. The three different HIV tests are as follows:

  1. Nucleic acid test (NAT): This test uses a blood sample to look for HIV. The results of this test are given as positive or negative, and this screening can determine the amount of HIV that is in the blood. This determination is also called an HIV viral load test. An NAT is not used regularly for screening due to the high costs. However, if you have has a high-risk contact to the virus, or if you experience HIV-like symptoms after a potential exposure to the virus, an NAT screening is the most accurate method.
  2. Antigen/antibody test: This test uses a blood sample to look for both HIV antibodies and antigens. This test is more frequently used for routine HIV testing, and they are usually performed in a laboratory. You may also be able to request that a rapid antigen/antibody test be performed for faster results.
  3. Rapid tests or home antibody tests: These tests require either a blood sample or an oral fluid sample for HIV to be detected. They can be performed in either a clinical setting or even from home with the appropriate at-home test. You can get results within 20 minutes from an oral fluid antibody self-test, or you can get results within one business day with a home collection kit with a blood sample from your finger. The rapid tests and home tests often allow for anonymous testing and access to confidential counseling and treatment referrals.

It should be noted that if you use any type of antibody test and receive a positive result, you will be required to take an additional test through a clinic to confirm your results. Whether that first test is a rapid home test, or a test performed in a lab, you will need to contact a health care provider and use a lab to conduct follow-up testing.

Understanding the Importance of HIV Screening

Even if you do not believe that you are at risk for being infected with HIV, it is important to get tested as part of your routine checkup. As mentioned before, many HIV-positive people do not even know that they have HIV. The HIV virus is extremely contagious, so if you are HIV-positive you may be inadvertently infecting others without even knowing it.

Because of how serious the HIV virus is, it is crucial that you start treatment as soon as possible if you discover that you are HIV-positive. The treatment can help you to be healthier and prevent your illness from getting worse and progressing into AIDS. Also, having HIV can make it much more likely that you develop other serious diseases if left untreated, so getting treatment is the best way to stay healthy and protect yourself and everyone around you.

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