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HIV/STI Testing Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Why Be Tested for HIV?

Taking an HIV test can be emotionally difficult. So much so that many of us put our own HIV status to the back of our minds, or convince ourselves that the effort or stress of taking a test outweighs the benefits of knowing our HIV status for sure. We only tend to think of HIV tests as something that we do to find out that we are HIV-positive. So if you don’t believe you have HIV, why would you test?

 

Whether or not you think about your own HIV status, or know your own HIV status, you still have an HIV status. You are either HIV-negative or HIV-positive. Taking an HIV test won’t change your HIV status but it will inform you what your HIV status is. Not taking a test doesn’t mean that you are HIV-negative, it simply means that you don’t know what your HIV status is.

 

You may have already heard that around 20% of gay men with HIV don’t know they have it, but did you also know that around 90% of gay men who say that they are unsure of their HIV status are actually HIV-negative?That’s 90% of the people who may be concerned about their HIV status worrying for no reason. Also, if you find out that you are HIV-positive, you can seek medical care quickly. People often live long, fulfilling, and healthy lives after receiving an HIV diagnosis. It’s important to take charge of your health if you are diagnosed with HIV.

 

Healthy. Strong. Aware.  Knowing your HIV status – whether it’s positive or negative – is empowering. It enables you to make informed decisions about your future, your relationships and the sex you have.

Adapted from http://www.gmfa.org.uk/sex/hivandaids/hiv-testing

 

When Should I Be Tested for HIV?

Follow these testing guidelines from Project HIM’s colleagues at www.checkhimout.ca/:

Guys have a variety of ways to determine when to test for HIV. For some, it’s a routine event that’s happened since they became sexually active; others test more sporadically, perhaps before starting a new relationship.

 

MORE AT RISK? TEST EVERY 3 MONTHS.

High-risk sex includes anal sex without a condom with a partner whose status is different than yours, or unknown to you.

 

To reduce your risk of picking up HIV, use condoms during anal sex, talk about your HIV and STD status and his, and reduce the number of partners you’re having anal sex with, or opt for lower-risk activities (like oral sex or mutual masturbation). Be aware of HIV test “window periods”.

 

 

LESS AT RISK? TEST EVERY 12 MONTHS.

Low-risk sex includes oral sex, anal sex where condoms are used and sex with a regular partner whose status you know (like a boyfriend or a husband).

 

Low-risk doesn’t necessarily mean no-risk. Even guys who may consider themselves no-risk should test for HIV every 12 months. Sometimes, a risk event may happen (by accident, mistake, or even planned). If so, you may want to change your testing pattern to every 3 months, or follow the Test After a High-Risk Event guidelines (below).

 

 

TEST AFTER A HIGH-RISK EVENT.

Sometimes, high-risk events happen. If you’ve had a condom break, or had anal sex without a condom with someone whose status you weren’t completely sure of, get tested.

Guys who have recently picked up HIV may be in the “acute” stage. Guys in this stage do not usually know they are infected but HIV is replicating quickly insider their bodies, making them much more likely to pass on the virus.

 

 

TEST BEFORE GIVING UP CONDOMS.

If you and your partner (boyfriend, friend with benefits, husband) want to give up condoms, you should both get tested (know your status), and then test again 3 months later after continuing to use condoms consistently. Assuming you are not exposed to HIV outside your relationship, you can both feel certain.

 

Some guys have a hard time being monogamous. Some guys think they are in a monogamous relationship when they are not. Discussing sex outside the relationship may be a way of reducing future risk. For instance, you may decide that if sex outside the relationship occurs (intentionally, or in the heat of the moment) it should be as low risk as possible. If you or your partner has a high-risk event, talk about it, and get tested right away.

 

Where Should I Get Tested?

Use Project HIM’s testing site locator to find a free HIV and STD testing site near you. Many HIV testing sites provide free, confidential testing. Most testing sites provide HIV counseling, where counselors privately discuss the test, HIV, risky behavior and ways to reduce your risk of getting HIV. Counselors also discuss test results and offer support and recommendations for HIV-related resources, if necessary.

You can also call 800-CDC-INFO (800-232-4636) for assistance in locating a testing site.

For Hearing Impaired — (800) AIDS-TTY or (800) 243-7889 for TTY

For Spanish — (800) 344-SIDA or (800)344-7432

 

What Types of HIV Tests Are Available?

There are several different types of tests used to detect HIV infection:

Rapid HIV Tests

Provide results very quickly — in as little as 15 minutes. Similar to the traditional antibody tests, rapid tests use blood from a vein, finger stick, urine or oral fluid to look for antibodies to HIV. As is true for all screening tests, a positive reactive rapid HIV test result must be confirmed with a follow-up test before a diagnosis can be made. Rapid tests have similar accuracy rates as other traditional screening tests.

 

Antibody Tests

Blood tests use blood drawn from a vein and are the most common screening test used to look for HIV antibodies (special proteins the body makes to fight HIV when it enters the body). A positive result has to be confirmed with a follow-up test to make a positive diagnosis. If the blood gets sent to an outside laboratory for testing, it may take anywhere from one to seven days to get the results.

 

Oral fluid tests use oral fluid (not saliva) that is collected from the mouth using a special collection device. If the fluid gets sent to an outside laboratory for testing, it may take anywhere from one to seven days to get the results.

 

Urine Tests use urine to look for antibodies to HIV and are not as accurate or effective as blood and oral fluid tests. Traditional urine tests can take up to one week for results if the sample has to be sent to a laboratory.

 

RNA Tests

Look for the genetic material of HIV and are used in screening the blood supply and for detection of rare, very early infection cases when antibody tests are not yet able to detect antibodies to HIV.

 

Home Testing Kits

Sometimes advertised through the Internet, but the only one approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is the Home Access HIV-1 Test System. The accuracy of other home test kits cannot be verified.

 

What’s the Window Period?

If you have unprotected anal sex or take other risks with someone who has HIV, it is important to understand that if you became infected with HIV, your infection will not show up immediately in an HIV test. Most HIV tests are antibody tests that measure the antibodies (special proteins the body makes to fight HIV) produced by the body once infected by HIV. It can take some time for these antibodies to show up in a test, and this time period can vary from person to person. This time period is commonly referred to as the “window period.”

 

Most people will develop antibodies that standard HIV tests can detect within 2 – 8 weeks (the average is 25 days). But, there is a chance that some people will take longer to develop antibodies. So, if you had risky sex or engaged in risky behavior with a person who has HIV or whose HIV status is unknown, you may need multiple tests to ensure you were not infected. For example, if you got an HIV test within the first three months after possible exposure, you should get another test after those three months have passed in case the first test occurred during your window period. About 97% of people will develop antibodies in the first three months following the time of their infection. In very rare cases, it can take up to six months to develop antibodies to HIV.

Adapted from http://hivtest.cdc.gov/stronger/hiv/index.html

 

What Does a Negative Result Mean?

Even if you’ve tested negative in the past, you need to test regularly because a negative HIV test doesn’t mean you can never get HIV; it just means that you’ve avoided HIV infection up until that point. Not every time you have sex without condoms automatically gives you HIV so if you have sex with a guy who has HIV without using condoms, you could still test negative. However, that’s no guarantee that you won’t get infected if you do the same thing again. Some people get infected with HIV the first time they have sex without condoms and some people get HIV only after having lots of unprotected sex.

A negative HIV test result can mean:

  • that you have not put yourself at risk of HIV infection, or
  • that you have put yourself at risk but have avoided HIV infection up to that point.

A negative HIV test result doesn’t mean:

  • that you will never be infected with HIV
  • that you are immune to HIV
  • that the sex you are having is always safe enough
  • that the people you’ve had sex with are HIV-negative
  • that none of the people you’ve had sex with is HIV-positive

Adapted from http://www.gmfa.org.uk/sex/hivandaids/hiv-testing

What If I Test Positive for HIV?

If you test positive, this does not mean you have AIDS or that you will develop AIDS. It means you are carrying the virus that can cause AIDS and you can infect others. You should begin an HIV management plan and take precautions to avoid spreading the virus.

If you are HIV positive, counselors or health care professionals are available at most testing sites and will work with you to develop a care plan or refer you to a health care professional who can provide care. Your counselor or doctor also can refer you to support networks and resources in your community. You’re not alone. Seeking the support of others can help you deal with your diagnosis.

Adapted from http://www.ucsfhealth.org/education/hiv_testing/index.html

 

What Are the Benefits of Knowing I’m HIV-Positive?

Some people feel they would rather not know that they have HIV because they wouldn’t be able to cope. In truth, most people who don’t believe they could cope with an HIV diagnosis do cope.

Not knowing that you have HIV isn’t really an option in the long term. If you do not get your HIV diagnosed, you will not be accessing medication. Eventually your health will deteriorate and, without medical help, you will probably die of AIDS or other HIV-related complications. How long this takes will vary. It could be a couple of years or it could be over a decade, but very few people survive HIV without medical care. HIV was a death sentence before the introduction of HIV medication and if you don’t get tested and access the care you need, you could still be risking your life.

 

If you delay testing, it’s likely that at some point your health will become so poor that your GP will probably insist on you taking an HIV test. So if you have HIV, it isn’t a question of whether or not you get it diagnosed, it really is more of a question of when you get it diagnosed.

 

With recent advances in the medical treatments available for people living with HIV, there are fewer reasons for not getting tested at the earliest opportunity if you believe that you may be HIV-positive. People who are diagnosed early enough will have their disease progression monitored so that treatment can start while their immune system is still relatively strong and they are not vulnerable to opportunistic infections. This not only reduces your likelihood of developing AIDS-related problems, but also cuts your risk of some cancers and heart disease.  Thus, the earlier you are diagnosed, the longer you can expect to live.

Adapted from http://www.gmfa.org.uk/sex/hivandaids/hiv-testing