National HIV Testing Day is a partnership between the National Association of People With AIDS (NAPWA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The purpose of National HIV Testing Day on June 27 is to increase awareness about the importance of HIV testing and to get as many people as possible tested for Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). Regular HIV testing is important and this day reminds us of the need to get tested for the virus which is known to lead to Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS). Even though June 27 is the designated National HIV Testing Day for people in the United States, those living in other parts of the world can participate in this campaign and get tested for HIV in their own part of the world too.

The annual campaign encourages people to “take the test, take control”, which implies that knowing your HIV status is important to stop the spread of HIV to others and to help those who are infected and may not know it. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website Nine And A Half Minutes, every 9½ minutes on average, someone in the United States is infected with HIV. Other statistical data obtained from this website show that in 2006, an estimated 56,300 people became infected with HIV and that more than one million people in the United States are living with HIV and one in five of these people do not know that they are infected with HIV and could potentially be infecting other people with the virus.

HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus and is a retrovirus that infects the cells of the immune system and destroys or impairs their function. Once the body is infected with this virus, it results in the progressive deterioration of the immune system, which is where the ‘immune deficiency’ segment of the name is derived. The immune system is considered deficient when it can no longer carry out its role of fighting infections and diseases and because the immune system is weakened, infected people are more susceptible to a wide range of infections. HIV is found in many body fluids including blood, semen, vaginal fluids and breast milk.

Most people who are infected with HIV do not know that they have become infected, because they do not feel unwell immediately after infection. Some people at the time of seroconversion may develop a fever, rash and experience joint pains and enlarged lymph nodes, but as these symptoms can indicate having the flu, it may not become apparent to the individual that they have been infected with HIV. There is a window-period from the time a person is first exposed to the virus where the antigens do not show up in tests, which can provide a false negative result. It is important to understand that even though the antigens are not detectable at this point, it is still possible to transmit HIV to other people. This is why regular HIV testing is important, because if the virus is not detected during the window period, there is less time between the next test.

The Avert website includes data presented in a clear and precise manner, including statistical representations in text and graphical formats. I will include some of the findings here in snapshot form, but checking out the Avert website will provide you with more in-depth information. At the end of 2008 the CDC estimates that 682,668 people were living with HIV in the United States and 490,696 people were living with AIDS. Out of the number of male HIV cases, 14,914 were Black/African American, 10,098 were White, 6,615 were Hispanic/Latino, 365 were Asian, 137 were American Indian/Alaska Native, 26 were Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander and 383 were multiple races. The way in which these men were infected with HIV has been determined to be 24,132 through male-to-male sexual contact, 4,551 through heterosexual contact, 2,652 through injection drug use, 1,157 through male-to-male sexual contact and injection drug use and 47 cases caused by other reasons.

It takes time for the statistics to be analyzed and then published, so the latest information available at present is data from 2008. According to data obtained from Avert, at the end of 2008, the CDC estimates that there were 682,668 people living with HIV in the 40 states and 5 dependent areas that have a history of confidential name-based HIV reporting, but it’s thought that more than 1 million people are actually infected. The reason for the difference between these figures is because not all states have implemented HIV diagnosis reporting, anonymous tests including home tests are excluded from case reports and one in every five people have not had their infection diagnosed or reported. Further statistics are available from the Avert website. The HIV Surveillance Report for 2012 to be published in 2014 will be the first time HIV data from all 50 states will be included.

Regular HIV testing is important to identify HIV infection so that those who are infected can determine the best form of treatment, plus those infected can also provide an accurate disclosure of their HIV status to potential sexual partners. This information can then be used by any potential partners as to whether to proceed with a bareback encounter or whether a form of protection should be used, such as using a condom or abstaining from any sexual acts. The National HIV Testing Day is an excellent way to think about HIV testing and remember the importance of regular HIV testing. It is recommended for those who engage in high risk sexual encounters that regular testing every three months takes place. Remembering the date of June 27 is a great starting point to help remember the last time a test was performed to help schedule three monthly tests, such as June, September, December and March.

There are a number of different HIV testing methods used by medical professionals. The standard type of test used for detecting HIV in blood tests are Enzyme immunoassay (EIA), which is widely used by just about all HIV testing programs. This test is reported to be highly accurate, but no test is 100% accurate and HIV testing programs use more than one test to confirm the presence of HIV. Another test is Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) and the Western blot test is used to confirm the EIA/ELISA screening tests if required. For these three tests, a small amount of blood is drawn from the arm and taken to a laboratory to be tested, where this usually takes one to two weeks to complete, depending on where the test is performed. These tests check for the presence of antibodies to HIV, not for the virus itself.

Rapid home HIV test kits are an excellent concept to test yourself for HIV in the comfort and privacy of your own home without the need for others to know about your HIV test. Sometimes the clinical environment can be too overwhelming for some people, along with the feeling that medical professionals may be judgmental. Most health care professionals are responsible and it is recommended that if you are going to best tested for HIV, that you do this by visiting a testing center or visiting a health clinic or your doctor. Certain rapid home HIV test kits have been approved by the FDA and they may be effective for identifying HIV status in the comfort of your own surroundings. You can purchase rapid home HIV test kits on the internet that are then delivered conveniently to your preferred address.

National HIV Testing Day on June 27 is a great way to start a regular HIV testing regime if you don’t already get tested for HIV on a regular basis. Even though this initiative is based in the United States, you can apply the concept of HIV testing to your own life no matter which part of the world you reside. It’s better to get yourself tested than to wonder whether or not you are HIV positive – for yourself and for those you may have sexual encounters with. The result may prove to be a relief if you are HIV negative and it may help you implement any changes to your life if you are HIV positive. What will you be doing on June 27?

References:

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
    http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/
  2. HIV Statistics – Avert
    http://www.avert.org/usa-statistics.htm
  3. National HIV Testing Day
    http://www.hivtest.org
  4. Nine And A Half Minutes
    http://www.nineandahalfminutes.org
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