HIV Prevention and Testing

Posted on Nov 30, 2011 09:00pm

How to protect yourself?
There is no cure for HIV/AIDS, but it is preventable.
• Choose not to have sex, or make an agreement with a partner who is not HIV-positive to be sexually faithful to each other, and stick to it.
• Use a condom for vaginal or anal sex, and barrier methods, such as a condom or dental dam, for oral sex.
• If you are HIV-positive and you are pregnant, see your health care provider to get appropriate treatment. Treatments are available to significantly reduce the risk of passing the infection to your child during pregnancy and delivery.
• Do not share needles for any kind of injection drug use.
• Get Tested! And ask partners to do the same.

Who is at risk?
HIV/AIDS does not discriminate. The virus does not single out any age, skin color, faith, sexual orientation or economic status. It is not who you are, but what you do that determines whether you can become infected with HIV. You are at risk for being infected with HIV if you have ever:

• had unprotected sex of any kind,
• shared drug needles and syringes,
• had a blood transfusion or clotting factor between 1978 and 1985, or
• had sex with someone whose history of risk-taking behaviors is unknown to you.

If you think you may be at risk, get tested and ask partners to do the same.

Why is it important to know your HIV status?
Approximately 1 in 4 people with HIV in the U.S. do not know they are infected. Left untreated, HIV can cause serious health problems. Knowing your status is also important for prevention, since studies show that many people reduce risky sexual behavior after they learn they are positive.

There are advances in the treatment of HIV/AIDS occurring all the time--and new medications allow people to live longer and healthier lives. A positive test result is not a death sentence. But finding out is critical.

Where to get tested?
Your personal health care provider can test you for HIV or direct you to a testing center. Public health departments can test you for HIV for free or at reduced cost. Clinics and many community health centers offer HIV counseling and testing as well.

Don't know where to get tested in your area? Call 1.866.344.KNOW or find a local testing site online.

Types of HIV tests
The only way to know for sure if you have HIV is to get tested. Some facilities offer anonymous testing, in which no names are retained (only code numbers by which someone can get their test results). Other facilities offer confidential testing, by which the person's name is recorded, but kept confidential in the person's medical and public health records.

There are several kinds of HIV tests available in the U.S. They differ based on the type of specimen tested (e.g., whole blood, serum, or plasma; oral fluid; urine), how the specimen is collected (e.g., blood draw/venipuncture; finger prick; oral swab), where the test is done (e.g., a laboratory; testing site, doctor's office) and how quickly the results are available (conventional or rapid). The most common types of HIV tests detect antibodies to the virus, not the virus itself. Most people develop HIV antibodies within 3 months after exposure, but some may take up to 6 months (this is often referred to as the "window period").

The antibody tests include:

• Conventional blood test. A blood sample is drawn by a health care provider and tested at a lab. Results are generally available within a few days to two weeks.

• Conventional oral fluid test. An oral fluid sample is collected by a health care provider who swabs the inside of the mouth. The sample is tested at a lab. OraSure is the only Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved HIV oral fluid test. Results are generally available within a few days to two weeks.

• Rapid tests. Rapid HIV tests are performed at testing sites and can provide results in as little as 20 minutes, depending on the test. If a rapid test is negative, no further testing is needed. If a rapid test is positive, it must be confirmed with a more specific test performed in a lab. Three rapid HIV tests recently approved by the FDA are commercially available. OraQuick is a rapid test that can be performed on either oral fluid (a health care provider wipes a treated swab along the gums of the mouth to collect a sample) or on blood obtained through a finger prick. Although not offered at all testing sites at this time, the availability of OraQuick is increasing across the country. Two other rapid tests, which require blood draws, are also commercially available.

• Home test. HomeAccess, the only home HIV test currently approved by the FDA, may be purchased from many drug stores and online. An individual pricks their finger with a special device, places drops of blood on a specially treated card, and mails the card to a lab for testing. Using an identification number printed on the card, they phone for test results, and may also receive counseling and referral by phone. Results can be obtained in as little as three days.

• Urine test. A urine sample is collected by a health care provider and tested at a lab. Calypte is the only FDA-approved urine HIV test. Results are generally available within a few days to two weeks.

There are other tests that detect the presence of HIV itself, such as a "PCR test" (also called a viral load test), but these are generally not used for individuals to determine their HIV status. More commonly, a PCR test is used to measure the viral load (amount of HIV) in those who are already infected with HIV. It is an important part of the clinical management of HIV disease.