National HIV Testing Day: What, Why?

National HIV Testing Day

First observed on June 27, 1995, National HIV Testing Day (NHTD) is a day to encourage people to get tested for HIV, know their status, and get linked to care and treatment.

The 2020 theme — “Knowing” — focuses on knowing’s one HIV status, and recognizes new ways to take an HIV test, and reflects that we can continue the momentum toward Ending the HIV Epidemic: A Plan for America.

This year self-testing is an option when facility-based services and in-person contact are limited.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 get tested for HIV at least once as part of routine health care. People at higher risk should get tested more often.

The only way to know your HIV status is to get tested. Knowing your status gives you powerful information to keep you and your partner healthy.

Before having sex for the first time with a new partner, you and your partner should talk about your sexual and drug-use history, disclose your HIV status, and consider getting tested for HIV and learning the results.

If you test positive, you can take medicine to treat HIV. Taking HIV medicine as prescribed can make the amount of HIV in your blood (viral load) very low—so low that a test can’t detect it (called an undetectable viral load). 

If you test negative, there are more HIV prevention tools available today than ever before.

If you are pregnant, you should be tested for HIV so that you can begin treatment if your test is positive. If a woman with HIV is treated early in her pregnancy, the risk of transmitting HIV to her baby is extremely low (1% or less).

There are three types of tests available: nucleic acid tests (NAT), antigen/antibody tests, and antibody tests. HIV tests are typically performed on blood or oral fluid. They may also be performed on urine.

– A NAT looks for the actual virus in the blood and involves drawing blood from a vein. The test can either tell if a person has HIV or tell how much virus is present in the blood (known as an HIV viral load test). 

While a NAT can detect HIV sooner than other types of tests, this test is very expensive and not routinely used for screening individuals unless they recently had a high-risk exposure or a possible exposure and have early symptoms of HIV infection.

– An antigen/antibody test looks for both HIV antibodies and antigens. Antibodies are produced by your immune system when you’re exposed to viruses like HIV. Antigens are foreign substances that cause your immune system to activate.

If you have HIV, an antigen called p24 is produced even before antibodies develop. Antigen/antibody tests are recommended for testing done in labs and are now common in the United States. 

This lab test involves drawing blood from a vein. There is also a rapid antigen/antibody test available that is done with a finger prick.

– HIV antibody tests only look for antibodies to HIV in your blood or oral fluid. In general, antibody tests that use blood from a vein can detect HIV sooner after infection than tests done with blood from a finger prick or with oral fluid. Most rapid tests and the only currently approved HIV self-test are antibody tests.

If you get an HIV test after a potential HIV exposure and the result is negative, get tested again after the window period.

A healthy diet for those with HIV includes eating a variety of foods from the five food groups: fruits, vegetables, grains, protein foods, and dairy.

The observance also aims to increase education concerning HIV and testing.

Other important facts to know:

Condom use is known to reduce the risk of infection. Use a new condom every time you have sex.

Don’t put off medical care. Even if you already know your HIV status, putting off needed care may compromise your health in unnecessary ways. 

HIV is spread through sharing needles, syringes, or other equipment. Never share needles. It increases your risk of infections.

Do you live with HIV? Take your medication as prescribed daily. It reduces your viral load and lowers the chance of transmitting HIV during sex to an HIV-negative partner.

The only way to tell if you have HIV is to get tested. A lot of people feel nervous about it, but the reasons to test far outweigh the reasons not to test!

Do I need to get tested for HIV?

You should get tested if you:

Have had unprotected sex

Have recently been diagnosed with another STI

Have shared needles or other injecting equipment

Are worried about HIV and want to put your mind at ease.  

Even if you think it’s unlikely that you will have HIV, the quickest way to stop worrying is by taking a test.

If you’re sexually active, it’s good to get into the habit of testing regularly for HIV, even if you regularly use condoms and don’t think you have been at risk.

Testing for HIV regularly, and knowing your status, means that you can look after the sexual health of your partners too.

No one will know your results unless you decide to tell them. But if you know you’re positive, you can encourage your partners to get tested too, which will help them protect their health.

Benefits of  HIV testing are many: 

The test is fast and easy: During an HIV test, doctors take a blood or saliva sample to analyze. You’ll know whether you have the virus in around 20 minutes. An HIV test is almost always free.

You can live a healthier life: If your test results show you have HIV, you can get the treatment you need to stay healthy. Today, antiretroviral drugs make it possible for people with HIV to live long, normal lives.

You can protect your partners: When you know your HIV status, you can take steps to protect your current and future sexual partners and encourage previous partners to get tested, as well.

It can give you peace of mind: If you think you might have HIV, you might feel nervous about getting tested. It’s normal to feel worried about your status, but it’s always better to take action than to ignore your concern. Getting an HIV test can give you peace of mind.

In this generation, where everything is just a click away, why to fear getting tested?

Get tested, get assured. Because life is short and health is priority! 😉 

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