Braving an HIV Test
Braving an HIV Test
When to Test continued...
Some people believe there's no point in getting tested because HIV is fatal,
says Chris Hubbard, of the Whitman-Walker HIV clinic in Washington. They're not
aware that medication makes living with HIV manageable.
Others fear they won't be able to afford treatment if they test positive,
Hubbard says. But even the poorest patients can get affordable medication
through programs such as Medicaid, he says.
Many younger people don't get tested because they feel healthy. But it often
takes several years until people with the HIV virus develop the first signs of
AIDS, says Amneris Luque, MD, director of the HIV clinic at Strong Memorial
Hospital in Rochester, N.Y.
There is one important exception, Luque says. In about half of all cases,
Luque says, a person will get an acute infection within a few days of
contracting the HIV virus. The tragedy is that doctors may confuse this
infection with flu or mononucleosis. The real
cause may not be known for years.
If you come down with flu-like symptoms soon after a risky sexual encounter
-- such as unprotected sex -- or a drug-related episode such as needle sharing,
that's a good time to get tested, Luque says.
It's also useful to know about the "window period." After a person
contracts the HIV virus, it may take up to three months before he develops the
HIV antibodies that the tests pick up. If you've had a risky encounter, you may
want to wait three months before getting tested (unless you get signs of a
viral infection). In rare cases, it may take up to six months before antibodies
Where to Test
You can get tested at many different locations, including doctors' offices,
clinics, Planned Parenthood centers, hospitals, and the lab test centers found
at malls. At some sites you'll have to make an appointment; other sites allow
At most of these places they'll ask you about your sexual and drug use
history, either in person or through a questionnaire. The testing procedure is
similar at most places, but it can vary in some important ways:
Blood test or oral tests. You don't have to face a needle
for an HIV test these days. Some places only require a finger prick. Others
collect your saliva by putting a swab inside your mouth.
Slow or rapid results. At some locations, you'll be asked
to wait several days for your results. At others, you may get results as
quickly as 20 minutes. With rapid testing, you'll know right away if you're
negative. If the test comes back positive, however, you may have to wait a few
days while a second test is done to confirm the first test. At a site where you
must wait several days, the second test will already have been done when you
come in for the results.
Anonymous or confidential testing. They're not the same.
Confidential test results become part of your medical record. Your
health care provider and insurer may learn the results. If someone else is
paying your insurance bill (for example, your parents), then they may learn at
least that you've had a lab test. By contrast, anonymous test results
are known only by you. In many areas, anonymous (and free) testing is available
through your local public health department. Use the Yellow Pages or Internet
to look up the public health department for your area.
If you're really worried about confidentiality, you can even get tested at
home. The FDA has approved one test, dubbed Home Access, which is available at
most drugstores. The test kit requires you to mail in a blood sample to the
Home Access Corporation's labs. The FDA warns that "rapid" home tests
sold over the Internet may not provide reliable results.