The Importance of HIV Testing
In the United States, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)—also known as sexually transmitted infections (STIs)—affect almost 70 million Americans a year. That’s about 1 out of every 5 people. STIs can cause many different health issues and are easily spread from person to person. One of the most dangerous STIs is human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Worldwide, there are nearly 40 million individuals with HIV. In this article, we’ll explain what HIV is in more detail, the risks and dangers it carries, and why HIV testing is so important.
What Is HIV?
HIV is a virus that affects the body’s immune system. When it goes untreated, it can lead to AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). Currently, there is no cure for HIV, so once you contract it, you have it for life. But there are treatments that can help control it. There are also medications—like PrEP—that help to decrease the risk of contracting STIs like HIV. HIV generally involves flu-like symptoms shortly after infection, like chills, fever, night sweats, rash, sore throat, muscle aches, fatigue, mouth ulcers, and swollen lymph nodes. However, if it goes untreated it can result in AIDS and even death.
Why Is Getting Tested for HIV Important?
Getting tested for HIV is important because it allows you to keep you and your partner(s) as safe as possible by knowing whether you have the virus or not. While it’s important to practice safe sex to stay protected from all STIs, HIV is a lifelong virus that cannot be cured, so you should do everything you can to prevent contracting it. However, when you have engaged in unprotected sex and think you have potentially been exposed to HIV, you should look to get tested. This will help you get the treatments you need to help control the virus and prevent you from spreading it to others.
Types of HIV Tests
If you do think that you’ve been exposed to someone who is HIV-positive, the next step is to go get tested. There are three main types of HIV tests:
- Nucleic Acid Tests (NATs) – These tests check for the actual HIV virus in your blood, and detect infection between 10 to 33 days after exposure. These tests are the most expensive and are generally only used if you’ve recently had a high-risk exposure or you’ve had a potential exposure and are showing early symptoms of HIV infection.
- Antigen/Antibody Tests – These tests check for both HIV antibodies and antigens in your blood, and can detect infection between 18 to 45 days after exposure if your blood is drawn from a vein. If it is drawn through a rapid test via a finger prick, detection can take longer—between 18 to 90 days after an exposure. The antigens that are present when you have HIV are called p24, and they are produced before your body even develops any antibodies. These tests are usually done in a lab and have become fairly common.
- Antibody Tests – These tests check for antibodies specific to HIV in your blood or oral fluid, and can detect infection between 23 to 90 days after an exposure. Tests using blood drawn from a vein are usually able to detect HIV sooner after infection. The most common type of antibody tests are rapid tests and self-tests.
How Much Does an HIV Test Cost?
How much an HIV test costs will depend on several factors, including which test you receive and the location where you receive the test. Generally, the cost of an HIV test can range anywhere from $0 to $250, with the national average being about $84. Many clinics and healthcare providers—like us at MyAlly Health—offer them at little or no cost.
When and Where Should You Get Tested for HIV?
As mentioned above, when you should get tested will depend on the type of test you are receiving. However, it is generally recommended to get tested anywhere between 10 and 90 days after exposure (based on the type of test). You may also need follow-up testing in order to guarantee that you have not contracted HIV based on the initial HIV test you used—rapid or self-test—whether the test was conclusive or not, if you tested too early, etc.
If you’ve decided to get tested, the next step is to decide where to do it. You can either visit your healthcare provider, a local clinic, or you can even buy at-home kits over the counter at a drugstore. You can also contact locations ahead of time to determine which test they offer and how much it costs.
June 27th is National HIV Testing Day and is a great time to educate yourself further on the risks of HIV. It’s also a perfect time to schedule an HIV test to get checked. At MyAlly Health, we offer HIV testing for free, so talk to us today about getting tested!
We also offer screenings and testing for most other sexually transmitted diseases, including annual examinations like Pap smears to test for HPV and Gardasil vaccinations to protect you from HPV infections. We even offer a $25 gift card for completing a cervical cancer screening, a pelvic examination, or for receiving the Gardasil vaccine!
MyAlly Health offers confidential reproductive health services to women and men in the Grand Forks, North Dakota area, regardless of income or age. This includes preventive care, like getting tested for STIs, breast examinations, and pelvic examinations; determining the best birth control for you; and even getting vaccinated against the flu. The clinical services we provide are all performed by Nurse Practitioners and Resident Physicians.
In order to empower and engage individuals in their well-being and reproductive health, MyAlly Health offers education, counseling, advocacy, and healthcare services. Find out more about what we do, help make a difference by donating to our cause, or schedule an appointment with us today!
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