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HIV testing: What you need to know
June 27 is National HIV Testing Day. Get yourself tested to protect yourself and your partner(s).
Written by Emilie Burditt, UHS Communications Assistant
What is HIV?
HIV is an acronym for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. HIV attacks a person’s immune system making it harder for the body to fight off disease and infection. HIV is passed through bodily fluids such as blood, semen, pre-seminal fluid, vaginal fluid, rectal fluid, and breast milk.
It’s important to practice safe, protected sex, avoid unsafe drug injections, and get tested.
Is HIV the same as AIDS?
HIV is not the same as AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). HIV is a virus that attacks the immune system by destroying important cells. HIV can lead to AIDS if left untreated.
Am I at risk?
Anyone who has unprotected sex (oral, vaginal, anal) can be at risk for HIV, or if someone has been exposed to bodily fluids. Although men who have sex with men (MSM) are typically known to contract HIV easier, sexually active cisgender individuals are also at risk.
UHS medical director, Dr. Bill Kinsey, says “On college campuses the highest risk is with our MSM populations although demographic factors also play a role. Lower socioeconomic status, unfortunately, is associated with higher risk of contracting HIV. We also know that people of color in the United States are at higher risk.”
How can I avoid HIV?
“The only certain way of limiting exposure to HIV is to not be sexually active,” says Kinsey. “This is certainly not an expectation of students but I think that’s the baseline.” Kinsey suggests sexually active students use a barrier form of contraception—such as condoms or dental dams—to reduce the chance of HIV transmission.
Other ways to avoid contracting HIV include:
- If you are sexually active, use condoms properly to avoid HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. Using lubricant can also prevent HIV by reducing the chances of tears in the skin and the condom breaking.
- Have regular HIV testing with your health care provider.
- Do not inject drugs. If you do, use clean needles. Never share needles.
- One option is to take pre-exposure prophylaxis (PReP) or post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP), which can help prevent HIV. PReP is available at UHS to both men and women.
- If you are pregnant and have HIV, there is a less than a one percent chance of transmitting HIV to a fetus when pregnant, but it’s still important to practice adherence with ARVs and avoid breastfeeding.
Where is testing available on campus?
The UHS Sexual Health Clinic offers no-cost testing to all currently enrolled UW-Madison students. Appointments can be made in MyUHS or via phone at 608-265-5600. Drop-in testing is not available, however if you know you have been exposed to HIV, call UHS for a same-day appointment. UHS performs a regular blood draw to test for HIV. All testing is confidential. Your medical information, including test results cannot be shared with anyone without your consent. “Not only with this testing, but with any test, confidentiality is our first responsibility to each and every student,” says Dr. Kinsey.
I've been tested once, do I need to be tested again?
Yes. HIV testing should be performed regularly every three to five years. If you are in contact with, or are a person who is at a higher risk for HIV such as a member of the MSM population, you should be tested one to two times per year.
I think I have HIV. Now what?
If after you have been in contact with bodily fluids and/or infected needles, or had unprotected sex, and have reason to believe you could be exposed to HIV, make an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible. UHS offers HIV testing for no cost. UHS processes HIV testing through a lab, not a rapid test, so students will know their test results within three to five business days.
If you believe you’ve been exposed to bodily fluids with someone prone to HIV, make an appointment with your health care provider within 72 hours.
I'm HIV positive. What resources are available to me?
If a student is diagnosed HIV positive, “there would be a lot of support in place for the student, both for immediate referral to an infectious disease specialist who would review treatment options, as well as mental health support related to a positive diagnosis,” says Dr. Kinsey.
What does that mean?
HIV negative: If someone is “HIV negative” that means they do not have HIV.
HIV positive: This describes a person who has HIV. Once someone has the HIV virus it cannot be cured, only weakened.
Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI): Infections transmitted through sexual contact. Symptoms vary and it is important to get tested for your health and the health of your partner(s)’. You can schedule a no-cost STI screening in the UHS Sexual Health Clinic.
False negative: When a test says a person does not have HIV and they actually do. False results can occur if a person was tested immediately following HIV exposure.
False positive: A person tests positive for HIV but they do not have it. Although it is not common, HIV testing can read positive if tested immediately after exposure. Health care providers perform another HIV test to confirm.
Adherence: Take your HIV medications as directed. If medications are not used properly, they might not work effectively and can create drug resistance in your body.
Antiretroviral drugs: ARVs can stop HIV from spreading throughout your body. Additionally, the drugs can help stop passing HIV on to your partner(s), and improve your overall immune system functions.
CD4 count: Sometimes referred to as T-helper cells, this is the count of CD4 cells in your blood.
Viral Load: Is the amount of the HIV virus in someone’s body. It can be reduced through antiretroviral drugs and treatment.
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