Too frequently, I hear people say they don't get tested for HIV because they don't fit the profile of someone with AIDS or they simply just don't want to know. Unfortunately, research suggests 20% of people living with HIV don't know they have it. That means one in five people living with HIV could unknowingly be passing it on to other people and depriving themselves of early detection and lifesaving treatment.
HIV isn't making the headlines it did 30 years ago, but it certainly hasn't gone away. With a few exceptions, we're not seeing big decreases in rates of infection. And like other diseases, HIV doesn't discriminate. There is no profile of the HIV-infected person; HIV can infect old people and young people, rich people and poor people, gay people and straight people.
HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus, is the virus that can lead to acquired immune deficiency syndrome, or AIDS. HIV damages a person's body by destroying specific blood cells, called CD4+ T cells, which are crucial to helping the body fight diseases.
California has the second most AIDS diagnoses in the country. Preventing HIV infection is the key to stopping AIDS.
You can help stop the spread of HIV by taking precautionary steps, which include getting tested to know your HIV status, wearing a condom or other latex barrier and, if you are HIV positive, participating in medical care and treatment.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends everyone know their HIV status. HIV can only be passed through sharing sex fluids, blood or breast milk. The most common methods of spreading HIV are having unprotected sex or sharing syringes with someone who is HIV positive. The disease is preventable if everybody takes action.
Testing methods have vastly improved in recent years, with some tests producing results in as little as 20 minutes. Tests are confidential and the health department always recommends notifying your recent sexual partners if your test result indicates you are HIV positive. We have trained staff who can assist with partner notification—even anonymously—and assist your partners with getting tested. You can contact us by visiting www.cchealth.org/services/hiv_aids/ or calling 925-313-6771. We want to make sure anyone who has been exposed to HIV has access to testing.
Like many other diseases, knowing your diagnosis allows you to start medical treatment early, before there is severe damage to your immune system and before the virus is passed onto others. Most tests consist of a simple blood sample or mouth swab and are accurate if taken more than two weeks after possible infection. Having a sexually transmitted disease also can make it easier to get HIV, so you should also be tested for STDs.
If you and your partner's test results come back negative and you and your partner are monogamous and do not inject drugs, you are at low risk of getting infected. If your test is positive, talk with your health care provider about follow-up tests and starting treatments. Although there is no cure for HIV or AIDS, people are now able to live longer, healthier lives with the help of medical care and medications.
Eliminating new cases of HIV requires action. If you don't know your status, get tested today.
Ms. Goad is the Education and Services Supervisor for Contra Costa Health Services AIDS-STD Program.
Healthy Outlook is written by the professional staff of Contra Costa Health Services, the county health department. Send questions to series coordinator Dr. David Pepper at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more health information, go to www.cchealth.org.