HIV: What You Should Know if You Test at Home
12/4/2012 12:00:00 PM
With World AIDS Day this past weekend, more attention was given to HIV infections. More than 30 years after the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, young people are again taking dangerous risks with their lives, according to a new report from the Centers for the Disease Control and Prevention.
Young gay and bisexual men, along with African Americans, are disproportionately affected by HIV, says a new report by the CDC. About 72% of new HIV infections in this age group occur in men who have sex with men, and 57% occur among African Americans. Just as scary? About 1,000 young people ages 13 to 24 are newly infected with HIV, , each month and 60% of HIV-positive young people have no idea that they’re infected!
Two things here:
Unprotected sex puts you at risk for HIV every single time you practice unsafe sex. Period. No “withdrawal” method will prevent it; no “they don’t look HIV positive”…none of that changes the fact you put yourself at risk! And even if you don’t catch HIV from one person, maybe you catch another incurable disease like herpes. Or an infection that is treatable but every time you catch an STD, it puts you at an even higher chance you’ll eventually contract HIV.
Second, some don’t want to be tested. I heard a friend say, “What I don’t know won’t hurt me.” Well, it may actually kill you! Nowadays, HIV is not a death sentence but you can’t live a longer life it if you don’t get tested.
For those who fear public testing, this past July an answer came: the first home test kit for HIV infection, OraQuick, which you can get at pharmacies and even on-line to test in the privacy of your homes. When the test was introduced, Magic Johnson endorsed the OraQuick test kit as a “Game-Changer” for us, in light of the intense stigma against HIV in the Black and Latino communities. But are there areas of concern when taking the test at home? Well, Dr. Keith Crawford, BDO HIV/AIDS Expert, for Black Doctor list a few things we should know if we decide to do HIV home testing:
Test kits can give false positive results. This means that the test tells you that you are HIV positive and you really are not. From what we know about other types of rapid HIV tests, this could happen possibly if the test hasn’t been stored properly or may be close to expiration. Sometimes, individuals with other types of infections (e.g. malaria and other parasites) will get a positive test for HIV infection, but they may be negative. We do not yet know how big a problem this could be with these kits.
You could also get a false negative test. In this case, the test tells you are negative but you are in fact infected. These tests are based on the presence of HIV antibodies. After infection, it may take several weeks to months for the body to develop enough of these antibodies to become detectable by these tests. So a recently infected person may have a negative test, but really be positive. The test should be repeated in 3 and then 6 months, but, the person is likely to have had other unprotected sexual encounters during that time. If for whatever reason you suspect you are infected and not testing positive, your doctor can do other tests, such as a viral load, that can detect infection earlier than standard tests.
Confirmation of test results by more accurate sensitive laboratory test (e.g. Western Blot or ELISA) is mandatory for any positive test. Repeating the results later is also necessary if the test is negative.
What if the test is negative? No problem, right? Wrong. Many people play Russian-Roulette. They engage in regular unprotected sex and the hold their breath while nervously awaiting their tests results. But when they get a negative test result, they breathe a sigh of relief and then resume their risky behaviors all over again. They never change. Individuals who are tested in a medical setting or through testing programs and receive a negative result are counseled on how to stay negative. They receive suggestions on how to refrain from high-risk behaviors.
The reaction if you test positive: The doc paints 2 scenarios where one person tests positive and her mate threatens to kill her is he test positive, too. Then another person takes the test and has a false positive result. Unfortunately, he doesn’t get a confirmation test and committs suicide. How much increased domestic violence and suicide could result from using or misusing this kit? The key is to educate yourself before using it and have a plan in place for getting good advice and guidance when you get results, whatever they may be. Counselors at medical and social facilities and even support groups can help you develop coping strategies if you find that you are HIV positive.
Don’t let any of the above scenarios or possibilities scare you. It is better to face the fear of the unknown than to never know if you are really free of HIV. If you have practiced unsafe behaviors and find after an initial test and two follow ups you are HIV free, count your blessings. Then make a vow to practice safe behavior or abstain until marriage. (AND STILL MAKE YOUR PARTNER GET TESTED AND SHOW RESULTS!) Sorry for my outburst but it’s true.
If you find yourself having to face a life with HIV, you can still get treatment to help you life a healthier full life. Yes, you will need to make serious adaptations but after the initial shock, through faith and a support system, you can make it. In fact, with lifestyle changes you may eventually end up with a lower viral load and find yourself having health in spite of.
While we pray for a cure for HIV - and I believe we will get there - until then we can prevent further transmission and stabilize new infections. We have to… our lives depend on it.