My Date with an HIV Test
Originally Published: April 29, 2004
Revised: August 26, 2013
I happen to be very straight-edge, so I never really had any concern about HIV. I never had unprotected sex. I never did drugs. But last week, I decided to get tested for HIV.
Why? Because we are at the center of the epidemic, and half of all new HIV infections happen to folks under the age of 25. I decided that if I could shed some light on getting tested and encourage other young people to do the same, then I would help create safer sexual experiences.
Here’s how I made a date with an HIV test. First, I searched online for HIV testing clinics, and found Hyacinth AIDS Foundation, in North Plainfield, NJ. I called and scheduled a testing date.
The testing facility was located on the second floor of a standard office building. It was very discrete. There were no huge banners hanging outside that read: “Get Your HIV Test Here!” Once inside, I went to the main desk. When I rang the bell, a counselor appeared and I told her that I wanted to be tested for HIV. She escorted me to a separate room for a pretest counseling session.
HIV/AIDS does not have a face. It could be you. It could be your best friend. It could be anyone.
“Can you tell me what you know about HIV?” she asked.
That was an easy one. Ever since middle school, my health classes covered the basics of HIV/AIDS.
“HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. It’s the virus that causes AIDS,” I answered. “AIDS stands for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. HIV is transmitted through blood, vaginal fluid, semen and breast milk. Most people get it by having unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex with an infected person and sharing needles.”
“Good,” she said.
Then she explained the two different kinds of HIV tests: anonymous and confidential. An anonymous test is done with no personal information. The patient signs only “John” or “Jane Doe.” Thirty-nine states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico offer anonymous testing. During an anonymous test, a randomly assigned number is given to you. Basically, no official record of your HIV test exists, so no one can ever obtain this information.
With the confidential test, your name is on the consent form, and the testing facility has your address and phone number. But no one else can get this information without your permission. The clinic will contact you if necessary. Counselors recommend confidential tests, because you’re more likely to get help if you test positive for HIV.
HIV Testing Methods
There are many different ways to be tested for HIV:
- Standard blood test: Blood is drawn from your arm with a needle and sent to a lab for screening. Results are usually returned in a few days to two weeks. This is the most commonly used test.
- Home test: Taken at home, you prick your finger to draw blood and send the blood sample to a lab for screening. You can use a personal identification number instead of your real name, and you get results from a counselor over the phone within a few days. Home Access is the only FDA-approved home HIV test.
“There are many disadvantages to home testing,” my counselor said. “You’re not receiving any counseling and not being linked to services that are vital to your health.”
- Urine Test: A urine sample is sent to a lab for screening. The test must be ordered by a doctor or health care provider.
- Rapid Blood Test: Requires only a drop of blood and detects infection in minutes instead of days. Two rapid HIV tests have been approved by the FDA: the OraQuick Rapid HIV-1 Antibody Test and the Single Use Diagnostic System for HIV-1 (SUDS).
- Oral HIV Test: A tissue sample is collected from inside your mouth and tested.
- Rapid Oral Test: In March 2004, the FDA approved health care providers’ in-office use of OraQuick Rapid HIV-1/2 Antibody Test, a new rapid oral HIV test that can accurately identify the HIV virus by oral fluids within minutes. Providers just dab a test strip against your upper and lower gums, place it in a special testing fluid, and wait 20 minutes for the results, which are more than 99-percent accurate.
Previously, the fastest way to get an HIV test was to use OraQuick’s Rapid Blood test, which used a needle to draw blood. But with the new rapid oral HIV test, you don’t have to deal with a needle, and you can get accurate results within minutes.
Health care workers hope the rapid oral HIV test encourages young people who fear having blood drawn to find out their HIV status. The test also lets you avoid a difficult waiting period and receive information on follow-up care if you test positive.
Taking an HIV Test
After reviewing my options, the counselor asked questions about my sexual experience. “When was the last time you had unprotected sex? Have you ever had sex while drunk or high? Have you ever used intravenous drugs?”
I truthfully answered her.
Next, she discussed ways to reduce the risks of contracting HIV, including abstaining from sex, and always using a condom if I decide to have sex. She also gave me information on the best types of condoms and how to use them properly. And she talked about the dangers of sharing needles.
I asked her: “What are the biggest misconceptions about getting tested for HIV?”
“Many people are afraid of how people might react if others found out they had been tested,” she said. But, the reality is that HIV testing is either anonymous or confidential, which means that either you don’t give your name and just get a number to pick up your results, or you do give your name, but no one but the provider at the clinic will know your results. “Some people are afraid of needles, but with the oral HIV test, that’s no longer a problem.”
Hyacinth, like many clinics, uses the oral HIV test, because there’s no need to draw blood. So, I did the oral HIV test; I simply opened my mouth and the counselor inserted a small pad on a plastic stick to collect fluids between my gum and cheek area.
Getting My HIV Test Results
“Are you ready for the results?”
I said yes and the counselor told me I tested negative. If you test positive, that means you have the HIV virus. If you test positive, the clinic will provide referrals for follow-up health care, support services and counseling.
Getting tested is even more important today, because the number of HIV-infected young people is on the rise. That means that if you are sexually active, you have a greater chance of being with someone who has HIV.
I’ve recently started dating, which is a major adjustment to my studious, sheltered lifestyle. Now that I’m older, I realize the importance of good health. As my relationship with my partner gets more serious, our talks about sex become more common. It’s good to know that my partner and I are comfortable talking about sex and embracing sexuality.
But at the same time, I am aware of the importance of disease prevention. Knowing your HIV status and that of your partner is key to building a healthy relationship—one that is based on communication and openness with each other.
These are risky times, so don’t take anything for granted. HIV/AIDS does not have a face. It could be you. It could be your best friend. It could be anyone. Be safe and get tested.
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