Taking good care of your health often involves medical screening to ensure the early diagnosis of a problem. HIV screening is one such early detection method that’s a good choice for people who have multiple partners, sex workers, those who engage in risky sexual behaviours and medical workers.
HIV screening tests are the first line of assessment towards the establishment of a diagnosis. Screening options are readily available in %country% and even if you don’t belong to the risk groups but are sexually active, you should still consider getting screened every once in a while.
Knowing what screening tests are, how they’re performed and when you’re going to get results will give you some clarity and peace of mind about the process. The following guide will take you through the essentials so that you feel prepared when you visit a clinic for HIV screening.
What Is HIV Screening?
HIV screening is used to determine whether a person is HIV-positive or negative.
The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) spreads through contact with blood, semen, vaginal fluids and other bodily fluids. Over time, it causes the progressive deterioration of the immune system. The most advanced stage of the infection is known as acquired immunodeficiency syndrome or AIDS.
According to the World Health Organization, the most common ways of HIV acquisition in %country% include the following:
- Unprotected sexual contact with an infected person
- Blood transfusion of contaminated blood
- Sharing of injecting equipment like needles (especially in the case of intravenous drug users)
- Using contaminated surgical equipment
- Transmission from infected mother to baby
Currently, 36.9 million people across the world live with HIV or AIDS. In 2017, 1.8 million people became newly infected regardless of higher level of awareness and readily available prevention methods.
The good news is that effective screening and antiretroviral therapy have contributed to a reduction in the number of HIV and AIDS deaths. As of 2017, the number of deaths went down 51 percent in comparison to a peak detected in 2004 (1.9 million deaths).
Screening and HIV tests are readily available, allowing for the earliest possible detection of the virus. Once a positive HIV status is established, a person can move on to more sophisticated diagnostic procedures.
HIV screening is performed in a very simple way – a blood sample is drawn and examined for the virus. Screening is carried out while people are still asymptomatic (there are no signs of immunodeficiency). Alternative screening methods have also been developed – through an oral fluid swab or a urine sample.
A few of the screening methods provide instantaneous results and there’s no need to wait and worry over one’s condition.
If you plan to get HIV screening, here’s how it’s going to happen.
How HIV Screening Occurs
The steps to be completed in order to get screened for HIV include the following:
- Visit a nearby clinic in %country% that offers HIV screening
- You will have to answer a few questions that will be used to determine whether the screening will provide adequate results
- Keep in mind that some time will have to pass for HIV to become available in a sample (if you’ve had unprotected sex, for example, screening should take place six weeks to three months after that), otherwise you may get a false negative
- Follow the instructions so that a sample can be drawn (blood, urine, saliva)
- Even if you’re scared of blood draws, understand the fact that this type of screening is most effective
- You’ll be instructed about when HIV test results are going to become available – in some instances, you’ll instantly get the screening results
- If the screening is positive, you will have to go through a follow-up HIV test
- The follow-up test is known as confirmatory test and it provides more accurate information than the screening
- A follow-up test can also tell the difference between the two common types of HIV viruses – HIV-1 and HIV-2
Depending on the results, visit your healthcare provider in %country% to come up with an action plan for your future treatment
Screening itself works by detecting antibodies rather than the virus itself.
An antibody test is known as an immunoassay. Blood has the highest level of antibodies, which is why these screening options in %country% are considered to be most reliable. Saliva and urine tests are much less reliable and they can give a false negative.
Alternatively, screening for HIV can work by detecting an HIV antigen called p24. The levels of p24 are highest in the blood when a person has just gotten infected and the body hasn’t had a chance yet to start producing antigens.
A p24 antigen screening can give results as early as 11 days after the infection has occurred. This type of screening, however, is much more difficult to come across than the standard antibody test.
Who Should Be Screened? How Often?
Screening is a good choice for all sexually active individuals, including those who do not engage in risky behaviours. HIV testing and other STD panels ensure good health and a responsible attitude towards one’s own wellbeing.
There have been recommendations for HIV screening to become a routine aspect of diagnostic healthcare in %country%. General care providers currently are at a freedom to recommend screening to their patients on the basis of medical history and specific concerns.
Certain groups of people, however, are considered high risk individuals. These people should be provided with regular screening options by their GPs:
- Individuals presenting HIV symptoms
- Those who have long battled with an illness caused by a compromised immune response
- Anyone who is sexually active and who has never gotten HIV testing
- Individuals who have shared drug using equipment (needles, syringes) with others
- Pregnant women and their partners, whenever there’s any risk of HIV exposure
Victims of sex crimes
- The partners of people who have tested HIV positive
- Sex workers
A few other factors that could contribute to the need for HIV screening include polygamy or having multiple partners, a diagnosis of other STDs, receiving a blood transfusion in a country known for an HIV epidemic, a history of sex with other men in the case of male patients.
Individuals who are considered high risk need to get HIV screening at least once per year (two times per year is even better). Those who get a negative test soon after potential exposure should get retested in a month or two.
Those who are not considered at a higher risk of HIV exposure should talk to their GP about the best screening frequency.
Preparing for HIV Screening
Anyone who is preparing to have HIV screening done will feel nervous about the procedure. Since there are no HIV symptoms at this point yet, the level of uncertainty will be very high.
Understand the fact that the initial HIV test is very easy to do. It has become routine and you can get tested in various labs or reproductive health centers in %country%. If you feel uncertain, call the facility in advance to have some of your most pressing questions answered.
No preparation is necessary when you’re getting HIV screening. The time of the day and whether you’ve eaten anything before going to get tested will not affect the outcome in one way or another.
The test itself will feel like a regular blood draw. Anyone who has already gotten blood drawn from a vein will know what to expect. In some instances, a finger prick will be used to collect a very small amount of blood that will be placed on a test strip.
Oral swab and urine tests result cause no discomfort, which is why some people may opt for such alternatives. Remember, however, that these HIV screening options aren’t as reliable as a test that examines a blood sample.
When you’re getting tested, you should inquire about when results become available and how you’re going to receive them.
Testing too early after potential exposure, however, could give you a false negative. This is why you may want to wait for several weeks after exposure before getting HIV screening.
Getting a positive result does not necessarily mean a person is HIV positive.
If the screening is positive, a follow-up HIV test will have to be done to detect the presence of the virus itself rather than the antibodies in the blood.
One final very important thing to understand is that the confidentiality of people in %country% who decide to get HIV screening is guaranteed. There’s no reason to worry about someone finding out you’ve gone to get tested (regardless of the fact that this is a good thing and it shows your own level of responsibility). You’re the only person who can receive the results and opt for a follow-up consultation if such assistance is required.
What Happens after Getting the HIV Screening Done?
Even if you get a negative result, the lab technicians or medical professionals in %country% responsible for screening administration will inform you about the window period (six weeks to 11 months) and the need to get retested if exposure has occurred recently.
At the lab or reproductive center, you’ll also get more information about the most common ways in which HIV spreads, how to protect yourself and reduce the risk of exposure significantly.
Usually, results will be provided in person, whether positive or negative. This follow-up meeting provides the clinician with an opportunity to answer any questions that could have arisen in the waiting time. As already mentioned, certain types of HIV screening provide instantaneous results. In such instances, the test and the discussion of the results will happen in the same day.
Anyone who gets a positive result will be provided with a bit of time to process the information, after which the most important questions about the condition will be answered.
A HIV test will be scheduled following a positive screening result to look for the actual virus in the blood sample. Once the positive HIV status is confirmed, a discussion will take place about the next steps.
Many people still don’t understand the fact that HIV and AIDS have become quite manageable through advances in antiretroviral therapy.
HIV is no longer considered a death sentence. Rather, it’s a chronic illness. The administration of the right medications and a few life chances will result in a long and happy life, especially if the virus is detected soon after the infection has occurred.
If you do test positive, you will be provided with information about lifestyle changes that reduce the risk of further transmission. You’ll also be given the contact information of treatment centers or specialists in %country% who could provide the right treatment option.
Medicine has gone a long way to manage HIV, reduce infection risks and provide viable treatment options to HIV positive individuals.
As a sexually-active adult or an individual belonging to a risk group, you have to get in the habit of regular HIV screening.
Many facilities in %country% offer free of charge or affordable HIV screening. This is your opportunity to control your life and wellbeing. Even if you get a positive test results, there are things you can do to control HIV and even go back to HIV negative status.
HIV screening is simple, accessible, quick and reliable. All it takes is the collection of a small blood sample and you’ll know your status. Don’t hesitate to seek HIV screening options or to talk to your GP about this opportunity. Your confidentiality is guaranteed and you can continue enjoying your life without a fear of a serious infection.