Getting tested for HIV is easier said than done. While technology and accessibility — with things like rapid result tests and at-home options — have greatly improved over the years, the emotional and mental aspects of getting tested can still be daunting.
This is why today, June 27, was declared National HIV Testing Day (NHTD) in 1995 — to encourage everyone, especially those most at risk, to get tested and know their status. As the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) states, HIV testing is key to ending the epidemic. This year’s theme for NHTD is “HIV Testing is Self-care.”
To help put some of your fears and anxieties aside, we tried to answer some of the most-asked questions about HIV testing and the possibility of getting diagnosed:
“WHAT IF IT'S POSITIVE?”
Fear of being diagnosed as HIV-positive is surely the thought that causes many to put off getting tested, but ultimately this procrastination could only cause you, and possibly others, more harm than good. Not knowing your status will likely cause you some level of anxiety too — plus, there are many reasons it’s important for everyone to know their HIV status.
If you do test positive, quickly getting on treatment will help you and others stay healthy from the get-go.
These days, thanks to the amazing strides made over the years in medication, HIV is now just a manageable chronic condition, much like diabetes. So while an HIV diagnosis may initially be shocking and saddening, there is no need to be afraid or feel like your “life is over,” as many folks report feeling when they first find out. If treatment is started right away, most people become undetectable within a few weeks.
What does undetectable, or U=U mean?
Being “undetectable” means that, thanks to being on treatment, one’s viral load becomes so low that it’s no longer detectable in the blood. Not only does this keep your body healthy, it also allows people living with HIV to enjoy happier, more fulfilling sex lives. This is because when one’s viral load is undetectable they have a zero chance of transmitting the virus to a sexual partner, even without the use of a condom. This scientific fact supported by the global medical community is known as U=U, or undetectable equals untransmittable.
“WHAT IF IT'S NEGATIVE?”
Of course, finding out your status is negative can be quite a relief — but remember that your very next sexual encounter could change that, so it's important to know what your options are. (And don’t forget that other STIs exist too!) As mentioned above, U=U is a way that those living with HIV can protect their partners, but there are also some highly effective prevention methods now available for those who are HIV-negative.
What is PrEP and who should use it?
PrEP, or pre-exposure prophylaxis, is a highly effective medical option for those who are HIV-negative but at possible risk of acquiring it (for example, sexually active gay and bi men and trans women, and IV drug users). There are three forms of PrEP currently FDA-approved for use in the United States: Truvada and Descovy, which are daily pill versions, and Apretude, the new injectable that only needs to be administered every two months. (It should be noted that Descovy is not recommended for people assigned female at birth.)
Is there anything I can do to prevent HIV after possible exposure?
Yes. There is an option available to prevent seroconversion (the time between exposure to a virus and when antibodies show up in your blood) after exposure to the HIV. Post-exposure prophylaxis, or PEP, is a medical option to be used in emergency situations to prevent the transmission of HIV. PEP could be needed due to things like a broken condom, recent needle sharing for intravenous drug use, or in the unfortunate case of a sexual assault. PEP is a combination of three drugs: tenofovir, emtricitabine (these two drugs come in one pill), and either raltegravir or dolutegravir. This combo is typically prescribed to be taken once or twice a day for about a month after exposure. The sooner after exposure PEP is started, the more effective it is.
So don't delay, get tested today!
To find out where to get tested for HIV in your area go to Locator.HIV.gov. You can also watch this informative video from the CDC about self-testing: