HIV: No Longer in the News, But Still Here

Written by Kristen Miranda, MD, MPH

What is HIV and why should I care?

What is HIV?

HIV infection occurs through the transfer of blood, pre-ejaculate, semen, vaginal fluids, or breast milk. HIV is most commonly transmitted by sexual activity. Other ways to transfer HIV are during childbirth, through breastfeeding, or by sharing needles. HIV is NOT transmitted by kissing, hugging, sharing utensils, mosquitos, or other forms of contact where bodily fluids are not exchanged.

If left untreated, HIV develops over time into AIDS (acquired Immunodeficiency syndrome). AIDS is a condition that causes progressive failure of the immune system and allows life-threatening infections and cancers to thrive. Without treatment, the average survival time after HIV infection is 9 to 11 years, depending on which strain of HIV you are infected with.

Excellent tests currently exist for HIV, along with medicines that can help prevent infection and treatments for those with the virus. HIV is no longer the “death sentence” it used to be. In fact, many people who are HIV positive are able to live long, fulfilling lives. Getting tested and making sure your sexual partners are tested, as well, is one of the best ways you can stay protected from HIV. The only way to be treated or decrease transmission to others is by knowing your own status.

Should I get tested?

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) currently recommends that everybody age 13 to 64 get tested at least once. Knowing your HIV status is an important part of staying healthy and keeping your partners and family healthy as well. One in seven people infected with HIV in the United States do not know they are infected. Those who are unaware they are infected risk decreasing their own lifespan, as well as unknowingly spreading the virus to others.

How long after infection would my HIV test be positive?

The time between when you are exposed to HIV and when a test becomes positive is known as the “window period” and depends on which test you get. The newest generation of tests can help detect HIV sooner than ever before, sometimes as early as 10 days after exposure. Some of the older tests can take up to 3 months to become positive. It is important to remember that if you are tested too soon after an exposure, you may have a falsely negative test. If you think you have been exposed in the past 72 hours, you may be eligible for medication to prevent infection. If you get tested before your window period ends, you will need to get re-tested afterward to confirm a negative result. Similarly, if you think you have been exposed again during the window period, you need to be tested again. If you have questions about specific circumstances, you can ask a healthcare provider.

How can I get testing from a phone or computer?

At HeyDoctor, we will order lab testing that you can have done in-person at Quest facilities. We have negotiated low rates with these labs so that it will be either covered by your insurance or at a low price without insurance. If we order your testing, we will be in contact with you to review the results as soon as we have them available. Our test is a blood test, but there are many facilities that offer “rapid” HIV testing with saliva, where you get your results back in 20 minutes.

The views expressed in this article intend to highlight alternative studies and induce conversation. They are the views of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of HeyDoctor, and are for informational purposes only, even if and to the extent that this article features the advice of physicians and medical practitioners. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment, and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.

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