It’s 2018, and it certainly feels like everyone in the U.S. knows much more about HIV today than we did in, say, 1988. But what many fail to understand is that the importance of getting just one HIV test is at least as important today as it was back then. Here’s why:
- Did you know that HIV testing has not always been a part of standard preventive care? In fact, here in our state of Nebraska, it STILL doesn’t make up the myriad of regular preventive screenings done unless you ask for it or your provider encourages it (read more on a legislative bill attempting to modify that here and here). Many states operated for many years with an “opt-in” stance regarding HIV testing, as opposed to an “opt-out” – meaning that in many places, you would have had to have asked for a test in order to receive one. If you don’t know the last time you were tested for HIV, it may be time to consider whether or not you ever have been. If you have donated blood or completed a physical for the purposes of securing life insurance, chances are, you have been tested for HIV. Outside of that scope, and particularly if you are living in Nebraska – where HIV testing is not considered a part of preventive screenings – you may not have ever been tested.
- It is estimated that 1 in 7 individuals who are living with HIV do not know it. This is particularly important when it comes to the cost of HIV care, as individuals who are diagnosed and prescribed to treatment early are less likely to require hospital stays and are less likely to unknowingly transmit HIV to others through sexual contact or sharing needles. Undiagnosed HIV is costly, not only to the personal health of those living with HIV, but also to medical care facilities and other care centers focused on HIV care needs. The cost of simply having a test performed is very likely free (visit free testing centers like ours or visit with your primary care physician – HIV tests are covered through the Affordable Care Act as preventive screenings).
- There is still a considerable need to reduce the social stigma attached to HIV and testing for HIV. Asking your health care provider to administer an HIV test (or asking them to confirm if you have ever been tested) should not require courage, it should be something we confidently ask in order to maintain our personal agency. The more we talk about being tested, the more normalized the process becomes. Whatever the result, you will find a network of individuals who will support you both during testing day and beyond. Individuals who test positive in the state of Nebraska, learn more about what we can do to help you navigate your diagnosis here.
- While there are populations who are still considered to be at-risk* for HIV, we recommend that anyone who has ever shared a needle or participated in condomless sex be tested for HIV at least once. We have seen cases of HIV in women who likely came into contact with the virus within a monogamous, marital sexual relationship in which a partner had likely come into contact with HIV prior to the marriage but was unaware of their status. While open and honest dialogue is best, it is recommended that you take control of your own health and ask to be tested.
*groups disproportionately at-risk for HIV transmission include gay and bisexual men, black men, persons who inject drugs, latinx, and individuals under the age of 30
- New diagnoses in the U.S. remain steady. In the past decade, the community of health providers focused on HIV care have made progress in finally discontinuing the trend of a rising number of new diagnoses each year, but as Hans Rosling once said “steady state doesn’t mean that things are getting better, it’s just that they have stopped getting worse” and this remains truer globally.
- If you believe you may be at-risk, talk with a physician about PrEP, a pill used to reduce the risk of transmission – more information on PrEP can be found on our website here. People living with HIV can also utilize regular treatment as a prevention mechanism to get to undetectable viral status, a measurement in which HIV is considered untransmittable. Read about U=U here.
London Woolman is the Interim Executive Director of the Nebraska AIDS Project.