Why You Should Have an HIV Test At Least Four Times Per Year
If you are reading this article, there is probably a decent chance that you feel as though you may have been exposed to HIV at some point in the recent past. HIV, or the human immunodeficiency virus, is a virus that, if not identified early and treated, causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, more commonly referred to as AIDS. The good news is that modern medicine has developed a number of antiretroviral drugs that can be used to treat HIV and stop this progression – on the condition that infection is identified early enough. Because of this, if you are someone at risk of contracting HIV (for example, having unprotected sex, multiple sexual partners, or sharing needles), the following article will explain why you should have an HIV test at least four times per year.
- What are HIV and AIDS?
- How is HIV transmitted?
- How a HIV test works.
- Where to get a HIV test.
- What to do if you test positive for HIV.
What Are HIV And AIDS?
HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. It is a virus that targets the immune system and over time reduces the body’s ability to fight infection. Within 2-4 weeks of an HIV infection, roughly 66% of people will experience a set of flu-like symptoms[i], such as:
- Night sweats
- Muscle aches
- Sore throat
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Mouth ulcers
There are two types of HIV: HIV-1 and HIV-2. HIV-1 is the virus that was first discovered and is more virulent and more infective than HIV-2. HIV-1 is the cause of the majority of HIV infections globally. Because of its low transmission rate, at this point in time HIV-2 is largely found in Western Africa[ii].
If you have HIV and are not treating it, the virus will eventually weaken the immune system and progress to AIDS. This is the late stage of HIV infection. AIDS is a condition in which the immune system progressively fails, allowing other diseases and cancers to thrive within the body of an infected individual. Symptoms of AIDS include:
- Rapid weight loss
- Recurring fever or profuse night sweats
- Extreme and unexplained tiredness
- Prolonged swelling of the lymph glands in the armpits, groin, or neck
- Diarrhea that lasts for more than a week
- Sores of the mouth, anus, or genitals
- Red, brown, pink, or purplish blotches on or under the skin or inside the mouth, nose, or eyelids
- Memory loss, depression, and other neurologic disorders
Currently, there is no cure for AIDS; and if left untreated, an individual infected with AIDS can only expect to live for 3 years.
How Is HIV Transmitted?
HIV can only be transmitted through direct contact with certain body fluids if an individual has a certain HIV viral load. These fluids are:
- Semen and pre-seminal fluid
- Rectal fluids
- Vaginal fluids
- Breast milk
In order for transmission to occur, these fluids must enter the bloodstream of an individual through a mucous membrane, open cuts, sores or through direct injection.
The two most common ways HIV is transmitted are penetrative sexual contact (either vaginally or anally, with anal sex carrying a higher risk of transmission than vaginal sex) and through the sharing of injection drug equipment, such as needles, between someone who is positive for HIV and someone who is HIV negative. Less common methods of transmission include breastfeeding and the passing on of the virus from mother to child during pregnancy and childbirth, oral sex, and blood transfusions – although this latter method is extremely rare in modern medical practices.
Having said this, taking HIV medicine daily can effectively create a situation in which there is no risk of an HIV positive person transmitting HIV through sexual practices. This is due to the fact that medicine can lower the ‘viral load’ of an individual, which is essentially the amount of HIV in the blood of someone who is HIV positive.
How An HIV Test Works.
Any individual who is at risk of an HIV infection should test for HIV at least once every 3 months. For individuals who frequently engage in unprotected anal sex and intravenous drug use, this is even more important. There are two main types of HIV test: a lab-based test and an HIV self-test (sometimes referred to as an at home HIV test, Rapid HIV Test or HIV testkit). A Lab-based HIV serology blood test provides extremely reliable diagnosis of HIV, however, takes time and effort before a result has been determined. Conversely, self-tests provide results in a much shorter period of time and can be conducted discreetly in the comfort of your own home. Atomo’s HIV Self Test is 99.6% accurate when used at the recommended time of 3 months after the risk event.
Generally, an HIV serology blood test identifies either HIV antigens or HIV antibodies. HIV Antibodies are produced by the immune system when an individual is exposed to HIV. On the other hand, HIV antigens are foreign substances that trigger the activation of one’s immune system. An HIV antibody test identifies antibodies to HIV in your blood or saliva. The only HIV self-test approved for use in Australia – the Atomo HIV Self Test – is an antibody test.
Where To Get An HIV Test.
Because of the importance of regular HIV testing, there are now many places in which one can get tested. In some areas, there may be a dedicated HIV testing center offering free HIV testing; however, in the event that is not the case, most sexual health clinics, general practices and hospitals can conduct a lab-based HIV blood test. A quick phone call to your local clinic will allow you to find out whether or not a HIV test is just a short distance from your place of home or work.
*Australian Residents Only
Alternatively, HIV self-tests are becoming more prevalent and can be easily ordered to your home. A quick Google search will quickly allow you to find a list of available HIV self-tests in your area.
What To Do If You Test Positive for HIV.
Being HIV positive is a manageable condition and people living with HIV are able to live long, active, and healthy lives. If using a rapid home-test, keep in mind it is a screening test and getting a positive test result does not necessarily mean that you have HIV. If the test result is positive, you need to go for follow up testing at a healthcare facility. Early diagnosis of HIV means treatment can start sooner. If detected early, it is relatively easy to manage a life with HIV thanks to medicine that can suppress the symptoms, stop the progress of HIV to AIDS and reduce the HIV viral load in your blood. In the best-case scenario, you will find that you are HIV negative, however, complacency should not be allowed to set in. Medical experts recommend utilising an HIV test (whether it be a lab-based HIV serology blood test or an at home HIV testkit) at least once every 3 months.
If one tests positive for HIV from a lab test, the clinician conducting the test will know exactly what to do. Trust their word and follow their instructions and everything will be okay. If you test positive on a HIV self-test, book yourself in at your nearest HIV testing center for a HIV serology test as soon as possible to confirm the positive diagnosis of HIV. Again, if you receive word that you are positive for HIV, pay attention to the instructions provided to you by the clinician and ensure you adhere to them stringently. In this way, it is possible to live a wholesome, fulfilling life with HIV.
[i] HIV.gov, 2022, Symptoms of HIV, HIV.gov, <https://www.hiv.gov/hiv-basics/overview/about-hiv-and-aids/symptoms-of-hiv>
[ii] Reeves JD, Doms RW (2002). "Human Immunodeficiency Virus Type 2". Journal of General Virology. 83 (Pt 6): 1253–65. doi:10.1099/0022-1317-83-6-1253. PMID 12029140.