There are over 1.1 million people living with HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) in the United States alone — but one in five of them have no idea they are infected. While some people develop flu-like symptoms within a few weeks of contracting the infection, many show no symptoms at all for years. And because early diagnosis is the key to best managing the illness, especially before it leads to AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome), getting tested often — no matter who you are — is always a good idea.
Luckily, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and AIDS.gov have made it easier for people to go out and get tested by launching National HIV Testing Day in 1995. Every year on June 27, clinics across the country offer free HIV testing — a service that is not always free — and community health centers take this opportunity to educate the masses about the illness and how it is transmitted from person to person.
According to the CDC, there are several groups of people for whom HIV screening is most important:
- Anyone aged 13-64, not based on risk
- Anyone with tuberculosis should be screened routinely
- Anyone seeking treatment for a sexually transmitted disease, regardless of risk
- Anyone who shares needles for injection drug use
- Anyone entering a new sexual relationship, especially if one partner has had more than more than one sexual partner since their last HIV test
- Anyone considered "high risk" for contracting HIV should be screened annually: those who have unprotected (vaginal, anal, or oral) sex, those who digitally stimulate their partners during sex (especially if the partner initiating has cuts on their fingers), or those who use unclean sex toys.
Thanks to "highly active" combinations of medications developed in the 1990s, the prognosis for one diagnosed with HIV is nowhere near as negative as before. Today, HIV-positive people can live for decades without their HIV turning into AIDS. But, of course, you can only take advantage of these medical advances if you know your status.
With its motto, "Take the Test, Take Control," National HIV Testing Day aims to alert all people to the risks of contracting HIV and to ensure that everyone, regardless of sexual activity or prior health, knows whether or not they have HIV. Even if you are 100% sure that your test will be negative for any reason, knowing for sure is just another way you can ensure your own safety and the safety of those with whom you are close. And when the test is free, what excuse is there to not get tested?
AIDS.gov offers a service locator where you can find your nearest testing center on National HIV Testing Day. Some Walgreens stores will also be offering free testing tomorrow, and greaterthan.org supplements this information with ways to become informed about HIV/AIDS.
Take charge of your health and get tested tomorrow! Knowing your status is an integral part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle for yourself and others.