Know your status: Take the test, take control!

Written by E. McDonald, UF student

national-hiv-testing-dayJune 27 is National HIV Testing Day, and it’s a great reminder of the importance of getting tested. It’s easy to fall into the mindset that you don’t have to worry about HIV, but despite popular belief, anyone can be susceptible to contracting it.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 60 percent of HIV-positive youth in the U.S are not aware of their status. Without treatment, HIV leaves you vulnerable to illness and immune system damage that worsens over time. The consequences become life-threatening, and on top of that lies the risk of unknowingly transmitting HIV to others.

Having honest conversations with your partner(s) about HIV and STIs is a critical part in prevention and keeping both you and your partner healthy.

No matter who your sexual partners are, whether your sexual relationships are monogamous, or even if you’re currently sexually active at all, you should know your status. The only way to be sure of your status is through regular testing: anywhere from once a year to every three to six months depending on your risk factors. There are multiple options for testing both on campus and within Gainesville. UF students have access to free, 100 percent confidential HIV testing services through GatorWell Health Promotion Services. After your initial appointment, which involves a mouth swab test, your results are available in as little as two weeks. UF’s HealthStreet office on Archer Road also offers the same test for free to anyone, student or otherwise.

Other options for HIV testing include the GYT Clinic at the Student Health Care Center, which offers comprehensive testing that also covers some STI detection (Gonorrhea, Chlamydia and Syphilis) to students for a $15 fee; results take approximately two weeks. If you’re looking for even faster results, the Alachua County Health Department provides HIV testing for $20 with results available in just 15 minutes. Keep in mind that HIV tests have a “window period” in which infection won’t be detected within the first few weeks or months after exposure. The length of window periods vary by test type, but they’re the reason why continuous testing is necessary, especially if you are sexually active.

Talking about sexual health can be awkward, but when stigma keeps us silent, we put ourselves and each other at risk. Having honest conversations with your partner(s) about HIV and STIs is a critical part in prevention and keeping both you and your partner healthy. Know your status and the status of your partners before you have sex and take precautions accordingly. Communicating openly with your partner(s), using barriers during sex, and making regular testing part of your health routine are all important ways of being proactive about protecting yourself.

In the same way you can protect others, too. We all have a part in both destigimatizing HIV and preventing its transmission, and discussing it makes all the difference. Encourage your partners and your friends to get tested. You can show support (and make the process a little less intimidating) by setting up and going to appointments together. Remember that while you should do what you can to prevent acquiring HIV, the danger lies in lack of treatment. HIV is a manageable health condition, and that’s why it’s so important to know your status – you can’t get the help you might need otherwise.

PrEP for very high-risk individuals

Pre-exposure prophylaxis (or PrEP) is when people at very high risk for HIV take HIV medicines daily to lower their chances of getting infected. A combination of two HIV medicines (tenofovir and emtricitabine), sold under the name Truvada®, is approved for daily use as PrEP to help prevent an HIV-negative person from getting HIV from a sexual or injection-drug-using partner who’s positive. Studies have shown that PrEP is highly effective for preventing HIV if it is used as prescribed. PrEP is much less effective when it is not taken consistently.

Interested in learning more about PrEP? Make an appointment with your primary care team by calling (352) 392-1161.