HIV Testing Should be Part of Routine Health Screening
From Doug Brust, M.D., Infectious Diseases Physician with Lee Physician Group
Everyone should be tested for HIV at least once in his or her lifetime.
Human immunodeficiency virus or HIV, is a virus that weakens the body’s immune system and interferes with its ability to fight infections. Most commonly, the virus is spread during unprotected sex or through sharing injection drug equipment.
HIV is the cause of one of the deadliest and most persistent worldwide epidemics. Although treatments have significantly improved, contrary to what some believe, the HIV epidemic has not gone away.
There is a major misconception that people only need to be tested if they engage in risky sexual or intravenous drug use behaviors. This is not the case. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 get tested for HIV at least once. Known as universal testing, this testing strategy also recommends that even those in a monogamous relationship should confirm whether they or their partner have the disease.
According to the CDC, an estimated 1.2 million people in the U.S. have HIV, including about 161,800 people who are unaware of their status. Overwhelmingly, almost 40% of new HIV infections are transmitted by people who don’t know they have the virus. For people with undiagnosed HIV, testing is the first step in maintaining a healthy life and preventing HIV transmission.
Getting an HIV test is simple and it can be performed at a doctor’s office or at a local testing site. Depending on the method of testing, it can take several days to receive results. Upon receiving results, a health care provider or counselor may discuss your risk factors, answer your questions and discuss next steps.
Today, more tools are available to prevent HIV. Those who are HIV-positive but on effective therapy do not transmit the virus. In addition to never sharing needles and using condoms correctly, those who are HIV-negative and engage in high-risk behaviors may be able to take advantage of HIV prevention medications such as pre-exposure prophylaxis. PrEP is a medicine used to prevent a person from contracting HIV from sex or injection drug use. When taken as prescribed, it is very effective for preventing the disease.
Regardless if you engage in risky behavior, knowing your status can not only help control the spread of the virus but will also allow you to make informed decisions about your health care in the future. Your physician or health care provider can discuss your risk factors and appropriate prevention methods.