Evidence shows that many HIV infected persons actually go to medical doctors and access health care services during the years before they are diagnosed; however, they are not tested for HIV and do not know their infection status. In fact, 1/3 of those who test positive are diagnosed late in the course of their disease when it is too late for them to get the full advantage of treatment. Antiretroviral Therapy (ART), if initiated before symptoms develop, will typically reduce the risk of developing opportunistic infections, HIV related cancers, and AIDS. HIV should be treated as a chronic disease that should be managed over a person’s lifetime.
HIV screening is essential to prevention efforts, as well. Those who are unaware of their infection are 3.5 times more likely to transmit the virus to another person as compared to those who are aware of their infection. The 21% of those who do not know about their positive status are responsible for up to 70% of new HIV infections. Evidence suggests that once people are aware of their positive status, they make substantial reductions in high risk behaviors including unprotected sex.
Once people are in engaged in HIV care, many are able to reduce their HIV viral load to undetectable levels. Data suggests that those with undetectable viral loads are less infectious and less likely to transmit HIV through sexual contact. Additionally, ART can have an impact on viral loads on the “population level” – this is called community viral load. Recent data indicate that ART can lower infectivity within a community by decreasing the average viral load through treating all HIV infected people. A reduction in community viral load is associated with decreased transmissions.
Testing (and retesting) for HIV are some of the best things you can do for your physical and mental health. It is highly recommended for both sexually active gay men and IV drug users to retest every three to six months. But, regardless of your risk category, if you are at medium to high risk (which is discussed within this website), retesting is incredibly important.
Whether you’ve had unprotected sex or it’s just that time of year again, here are some significant reasons why you should test again:
The only true way to know your HIV status is by taking a test. But if you’re not always using condoms and applying them correctly, it’s incredibly important that you keep refreshing your status. Testing regularly means that your results stay up to date and you can live rest assured of your HIV negative standing.
Anti transmission drugs, such as PrEP, should only be taken by people who are HIV negative and are used for the purpose of preventing individuals from acquiring HIV. If you’re (unknowingly) HIV positive and take this type of drug, it can make finding treatment options more difficult in the future. If you’re already on an anti transmission medication, it is important to remember to have regular STD and HIV testing done as well as necessary medical check ups, just to make sure you continue to be HIV negative.
By testing regularly, you can get onto HIV treatment straight away if you test HIV positive.
Starting treatment as soon as possible after infection reduces damage to your immune system, meaning you can live a long and healthy life. Getting onto and staying on effective treatment will also help to protect your partner, or any future partners from HIV; this is because treatment reduces the amount of virus in your body.
Many people living with HIV can now achieve an ‘undetectable’ viral load – meaning treatment has reduced the virus to such low levels that they absolutely cannot pass on HIV to their partners: Undetectable = Untransmittable.
In many countries, self testing has been given the green light. This means you can test in the privacy of your own home. Just remember, if you’re using a self test, ensure it has a ‘CE’ or ‘FDA’ mark on it. That way, you’ll know that the tests are regulated and work properly. Follow the instructions, and if you do get an HIV positive result, get a follow up test to double check the result.
Even if you are not self testing, the whole process is quick and easy. Just find your nearest testing facility, and you’ll be able to find a place to get a quick and confidential test that’s almost always free.
Regularly testing for HIV can keep you happy and healthy. However, many people don’t test or retest because they are too scared of the result. Being HIV positive is nothing to be ashamed of. You can still have an active and healthy sex life, and your life expectancy is now the same as anyone else if you access ART medication soon enough. But this is only if you test and get onto treatment, early on.