This is a huge and confronting question for many people.
- Why should people get tested for HIV?
- Who should get tested for HIV?
- When should they get tested?
- How easy is it to get tested?
Lets start with the why.
Despite what far too many people may think, the HIV pandemic is not over. Far from it. Thousands of people are being infected worldwide everyday. Even in first world countries there is a huge rise in infection rates in some populations
How can this be, there are treatments aren’t there?
Yes there are treatments. These treatments are proving to be highly effective at suppressing the virus. But these are only treatments, not a cure or a vaccine.
Despite these treatments infection rates are still on the increase in some populations.
Why? Mainly because people don’t know their HIV status and are, in many cases, wrongly assuming that they are negative and continue on their merry way having unprotected sex. They think that they are ok. But they aren’t.
Why? Because they haven’t been tested for HIV.
There are many reasons for this; some I guess don’t feel the need to get tested because they don’t feel sick. Some have had sex with people who have told them that they were negative. These people unfortunately don’t seem to feel that they are at risk. Some people are afraid of what the results may be. The reasons are many and varied.
Unfortunately, many of these same people are having unprotected sex and unsuspectingly passing on the virus.
This is the important part of the why question. If you don’t know your status and decide to have unprotected sex you could be exposing yourself or others to the virus.
Unprotected sex between positive couples is a different story. They have the knowledge of their status to make an informed decision on their choices. (Though there is always the underlying question of other STIs that can be caught through unprotected sex. That is equally worrying for people with compromised immune systems.)
However, people who haven’t tested don’t have that luxury. They don’t know their status and cannot afford to practice unprotected sex.
But, regrettably a lot of people do, infecting others on the way.
Then of course, many of those people infected don’t realize that they are infected because they haven’t had an HIV test. They continue to practice unprotected sex as they have previously, so the vicious cycle goes on.
So if we are to have any hope of ever stopping the virus running rampant through our communities (straight and gay) people must have a test and know their status.
Testing is the only way to know your status. This is not something you can guess.
Please get tested! If the test comes back negative, you are very fortunate. You can then thank your lucky stars and start to re-think your sexual health habits.
Condoms are still the most effective way of not infecting or being infected with HIV. Simple!
Conversely testing is the only way that you can they find out that you are positive. Once you have tested positive, you are able to speak to your doctor, receive advice on options for treatment and general health. You will be able to know what your viral load is as well as your CD4 count, important factors at diagnosis.
It would then be highly advisable to re-consider your sexual health habits.
But if you don’t test, you won’t know and the horrible cycle of re-infection continues.
Back to why.
Knowledge is power.
If you have had a test, you know your status. You have the knowledge to do something about it. The longer the HIV virus remains undetected and untreated in your system, the more damage it is likely to do, the more likely you are to be highly contagious.
It is well known that at the time of sero-conversion and shortly thereafter, the recently infected person is probably in the highest state of infection. If you are practicing unprotected sex at this time you are only exacerbating the chances of infecting others.
Ok so hopefully by now you have the message. test, test, test for HIV. Know your status!
On to who should test?
The answer to this should be simple.
Surely the only ones who need testing are those gay men who are sexually active and are having unprotected sex?
NO! Not that simple.
Well, yes those people definitely need to be tested of course. But there are other categories of people who need to be lining up for testing. Gay men, injecting drug users, sex workers, men who have sex with men but don’t identify as gay, bi-sexual men and women, transgender etc. This list is not definitive and there are a lot of other categories that are probably missing. So in short, I think that if you believe that you could be or are at risk of contracting HIV then have a test.
So that brings me to the WHEN.
The answer to this IS simple. Do it today! Don’t wait until it is too late.
Know your status! Doing this you may be part of the solution to stopping the cycle of HIV infection.
Treatments are there and they work very well. But if you don’t get tested and wait until you are very sick, you could be endangering your life and the lives of others.
So HOW do I get tested?
Testing is done by a simple blood test.
In Australia and around the world, there are many places you can go to have an HIV test.You can go to your GP. You can go to a sexual health clinic or hospital.
There have been home testing kits approved in many places, which allow you the privacy of testing at home.
In Sydney, Australia, there are mobile units set up to provide easy testing.
All these places provide a confidential, fast testing service. In most cases you can have your results back in just over 20 minutes.
The news is good. Testing is easy and accessible.
Now the next part is up to you.
This pandemic can be stopped but the first step to this becoming a reality is for everyone to know his or her status.
So please, please whatever else you don’t do…please DO get tested for HIV.
About the author: David Polson was born in Christchurch New Zealand.After leaving school he became a professional actor appearing on stage, film and TV. He left the world of showbiz to enter the world of hospitality where he managed one of the leading Supper Clubs in Australia. After surviving prolonged drug trials he retired through ill health. He now spends a lot of his time devoted to educating people about HIV/AIDS and giving motivational talks.
His website is www.survivalpower.org