I remember the extreme suffering and fear that swept the nation and the world with the onset of the AIDS epidemic in the opening years of the 1980s. I also remember attending the funerals of several friends, including a former roommate who died from complications as a result of AIDS.
The Centers for Disease Control, CDC, announced that Gay men were the population group most vulnerable to the virus that causes AIDS, but we weren’t the only ones who contracted the infection. Other high-risk groups were hemopheliacs, intraveinous drug users, patients receiving blood transfusions, female partners of men with a high risk of HIV infection, infants of infected women, and Haitians. As a member of a high risk group, I was very worried.
I also remember when tests and screening for HIV was first introduced. Because AIDS sufferers had become highly stigmatized by society, testing procedures were anonymous. As soon as HIV testing was available in my town, I had it done. I soon learned that my HIV status was negative. Years later, I still make sure to get tested on a regular basis.
It’s troubling that one in five people living with HIV in the US don’t know they harbor it. Today is National HIV Testing Day. It’s a nationwide awareness campaign to encourage everyone to know their status by getting tested. You cannot tell if you have HIV by looking in the mirror. The only way to know for sure is to get tested for it.
People at risk include those who are sexually active with more than one partner or a partner who has other partners, or people with sexually transmitted diseases. Gay and bisexual men should make HIV tests a part of their health care. Women who are pregnant or who plan to become pregnant need an HIV test. People who share drug injection paraphernalia with others also need regular HIV testing.
It’s important to know so that people living with HIV do not unknowingly pass the virus along to others. It also means that they might not be getting the treatment needed to remain healthy. There are treatment options for people with a positive HIV status. There are also preventative measures that HIV negative people can take to remain that way.
The CDC has these recommendations for everyone:
•Get tested at least once for HIV.
•Get tested once a year or more often if you are at risk of getting HIV.
•Lower your risk of getting HIV by using condoms, using PrEP if appropriate, limiting your number of partners, choosing less risky sexual behaviors, and getting checked for STDs, which can increase the risk of HIV transmission.
•If you have HIV, get medical care and treatment as soon as possible to stay healthier longer and lower your risk of passing the virus to others.
It’s easy to get tested for HIV. You can ask your primary care physician to perform it. You can also call 1-800-CDC-INFO. Most health insurance plans cover the cost of the test. You might be able to find a site that offers free HIV testing. There are also a few FDA-approved home testing kits.
Basically, it’s best to know your HIV status.