In the early 1980s, HIV/AIDS was viewed as a death sentence. But times have changed with modern antiretrovirals – life expectancy is now near normal for people with HIV. But first things first, you need to get a HIV test so you can know your HIV status.
What is HIV/AIDS?
You’ve probably heard the word HIV or AIDS in the news and media, but let’s get to the facts. What exactly is HIV? HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. WHO defines HIV as a virus that infects cells of the immune system, destroying or impairing their function. This attack on the immune system results in a weakened and defenceless immune system.
AIDS in full stands for acquired immune deficiency syndrome. It refers to the latter stages of HIV when the disease has progressed resulting in attack of the body by opportunistic infections. The most obvious symptoms of AIDS is body wasting, change of skin colour and hair thinning and change of hair colour too.
Who can get HIV/AIDS?
At the close of 2018, UNAIDS Global Statistics reported that 36.9 million people are living with HIV/AIDS. That is basically equivalent to Australia’s population. Therefore, unlike the myths that you can somehow know someone is HIV positive by just looking at them, it is nearly impossible to know one’s status unless they are at the latter stages of the disease when the HIV symptoms are showing.
Saying that that means that everyone is at risk of being infected. However, there are certain groups of people who are more susceptible to HIV than the general public. They include:
- Commercial sex workers.
- People who inject drugs. When high, people tend to do things recklessly, and one of these things is sharing needles and engaging in unsafe sexual behaviour.
- Victims of Sexual Abuse.
- Men who sex with men. (MSM). This is because cells in the anal area are more susceptible to HIV and unlike vaginal sex where there is the production of vaginal fluid for lubrication, anal sex may experience bleeding
- People with more than one sexual partner. This is risky because your multiple sexual partners may have other sexual partners. This increases your susceptibility.
- People whose spouses are HIV – this was places as the last one simply because right now discordant couples can live without infection of their spouse if they take PrEP (Pre-exposure prophylaxis).
- Caregivers to HIV – This rarely happens, but this a group of people is also at risk of infection.
The major risk factors, however, vary between countries. In %country%, the one of the major contributor to new HIV infections is drug abuse.
How is HIV/AIDS spread?
Some of us distance ourselves from our friends or family the minute we know they’re HIV positive. It’s about time we end that trait. You cannot get HIV by simply touching an HIV positive person. So relax. People stay up to 10 years without HIV symptoms showing.
Let’s get the myths out of the way. HIV is a virus and any virological disease is transmitted through the exchange of body fluids. These body fluids saliva, blood, and other fluids.
We’ve been told multiple times that we shouldn’t have unprotected sex, but we still do it nonetheless. It’s just human nature. Deep kissing a person who has open wounds also puts you at risk. Well, have you had unprotected sex with more than one partner? Then you should get your HIV status tested for ASAP.
Health professionals working around PLWHA are a neglected group that is at risk of getting infected with HIV/AIDS. They perform surgical procedures and therefore as the routine check they are required to do an HIV test from time to time.
Are you living with an HIV positive person? Probably giving them care or they are in perfect health. Then you should also consider getting a HIV test every 3 – 6 months.
People who inject drugs have this reckless behaviour of sharing syringes. It could be the spur of the moment, but it’s a risk you should not take. If you’re guilty of this, get to your nearest health facility and get that test done.
Commercial sex workers have adapted the use of PrEP, but they are still at risk of being infected with HIV/AIDS if they do not adhere strictly to the regimen.
Sexual abuse can happen to anyone, and it’s the worst thing that can happen to anyone. But if this unfortunate deed happens to you, go to your nearest health facility and report your case. They’ll test you for HIV and other STDs and prescribe you HIV PEP (Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) if you meet the requirements .
Transfusion of blood from an HIV positive person is rare, but it is a sure way of transmission of HIV.
Lastly, during delivery between a mother and child, HIV can be transmitted if the mother is HIV positive.
These are just but a few to give you a clue, but any situation that comes in mind that involves the exchange of body fluid is right.
Why should I take an HIV test?
Approximately 75% of people living with HIV globally were aware of their HIV status in 2017. The remaining 25% (over 9 million people) still need access to HIV testing services. (Global Statistics, 2018) The 25% who don’t know their status are at risk of quickly deteriorating to AIDS since they aren’t on ARVs.
Many countries like %country% have increased their efforts to encourage their residence to undertake the HIV test. This enables reduction of AIDS-related deaths.
You know how they say knowledge is power, they’re right. Knowing your HIV status equips you with the ability to make the right decisions for your life onwards. If you test positive, you can begin antiretroviral therapy to increase and improve your quality of life.
If you’ve tested positive for an STD, then you should get your HIV test done too. STDs and HIV are acquired similarly and there is a probability that when you got infected with the STD, you could have also been infected with HIV.
Do it as moral support for people close to you. You probably already got your HIV test done just recently, but if you have friends or family who believe they have recently been exposed, have multiple sexual partners, engage in risky sexual behaviours or are going to get married – they really should get tested. If they’re afraid of getting their HIV test done, tag along with them and do the test with them so they get the support they need. It can be really scary and embarrassing for many when doing it alone.
Where Can I Get tested?
Check if your GP in %country% has HIV Testing and counselling facilities or experience doing them. There are also independent HIV testing centers. In many countries, there are could be centers that let you get tested anonymously. There are also HIV self-test kits available in some countries or online with clear instructions on how to carry out the test.
HIV Test Procedure
This will probably take less than an hour.
- Test kit
- Interpretation chart
- Capillary tubes
- Methylated spirit
- Female and male dummy
- Female and male condoms.
- Waste disposal bins
The counsellor will begin by first introducing themselves by name and explaining to you the procedures, assuring you that everything you talk about in that room is strictly confidential. They’ll ask you a few questions to find out if you know clearly about HIV/AIDS and explain the basics. They’ll also want to know your reasons for coming to be tested and recent sexual history. This is usually known as risk assessment. This is inclusive of getting to know your expectations are and know how they will react to the news and advise accordingly.
- The clinician will wear gloves and prepare their tools of use.
- The clinician will then wipe your index finger with a piece of cotton soaked in methylated spirit.
- With a new pricker, he/she will prick your finger.
- The oozing blood is directed into a capillary tune until it is almost full or at least half way complete.
- The blood from the capillary tube is put on the new test kit.
- A drop of the buffer is put on the blood on the test kit.
- The timer is put on and wait for at 15 – 20 minutes
Interpretation of results
- A single line on the test kit indicates that you are HIV negative.
- Two lines on the test kit indicate you are HIV positive.
- No lines indicate the results are invalid and the procedure should be done again.
- If positive, another confirmatory test will be done.
This is the counselling done after the results have been interpreted. If you test negative, you’ll be advised on safe sexual practices and healthy living.
If your results read that you’re HIV positive, you’ll be advised on how to live positively and urged to start ART as soon as possible.
Recording of results
Results of your HIV test will be recorded. This is purposes of research and for the planning of health budgets globally by various global health organizations like UNAIDS and WHO. In %country%, the results a recorded in a health records book issued by the ministry of health.
I just got tested. What next?
You finally mastered the courage to get tested. That’s great! But now that you know your status you don’t know what to do next. Let me first say this, whatever your results turned out to be, life goes on.
If you tested negative, moving forward ensure you practice safe sex, be faithful to your partner or consider going on the HIV PrEP regimen. Avoid any situation that may put you at risk of getting infected with HIV, if you do get exposed, consider HIV PEP. Remember HIV doesn’t usually manifest physically so it is not easy to tell if someone who are going to be intimate with has been infected.
If you tested positive, go on treatment immediately. Surround yourself with family and friends and enjoy your life to the fullest. With full adherence to HIV treatment, there is a high chance of brining HIV viral load down to a level where it is no longer detectable, you’ve got a long life ahead of you.
If you are sexually active with multiple partners, get tested to find out your HIV status. Live cautiously, remember HIV symptoms don’t show until it’s at the full-blown stage. HIV is just a disease like any other – It all depends on how you manage it.
UNAIDSDate. “Global Statistics.” HIV.gov, 10 Jan. 2019, www.hiv.gov/hiv-basics/overview/data-and-trends/global-statistics.
The Antiretroviral Cohort Collaboration. Life expectancy of individuals on combination therapy in high-income countries: a collaborative analysis of 14 cohort studies. The Lancet 372: 293 – 299, 2008.
Cooper DA. Life and death in the cART era. The Lancet 372: 266 – 267, 2008.