With most everything in life, knowledge is power. This rings especially true when it comes to HIV/AIDS.
The only way to know that you have the virus is to actually go to your doctor, health clinic or testing site and get screened for it. Knowing your status is incredibly important, especially for African-American women who continue to bear the brunt of the epidemic in this U.S.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2015 Black women accounted for 60 percent of new HIV diagnoses among all women living in the U.S. In addition, we are nearly 20 times more likely to contract HIV than our white female counterparts, and in 2014, positive Black women had a higher death rate than women of all other races and ethnicities. Sadly, when we test positive, we are more likely to receive an AIDS diagnosis, because we waited so long to get tested.
But not all is lost. Remember, HIV is 100 preventable.
So in honor of National HIV Testing Day on June 27, here are six facts about testing and the power of knowing your status.
1.) Even If You Don’t Think You’re At Risk For HIV, You Still Need To Get Tested
Past studies have shown that Black women are more likely to not report their risk factors for HIV or even know what those factors are and it relates to them. Some of us tend to believe that the ONLY people who need to get tested are those that are promiscuous, have sex with gay or bisexual men or are IV drug users.
But be clear: That couldn’t be further from the truth.
Actually, being in a relationship you believe is monogamous can put make your put your guard down and have condomless sex, which puts you at risk for HIV. That, and walking into a relationship where neither one of you knows each other status is risky too. It’s estimated that about 1 in 7 people in the United States who have HIV don’t even know that they have it.
This is why the CDC recommends that everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 get tested for HIV at least once as part of routine health care. So tell us: What are you waiting for?
2.) It’s Impossible To Know If Someone Has HIV By Looking At Them
Can you tell if someone has other chronic diseases such as diabetes or heart disease? Nope. So why would HIV be any different?
You can look “healthy,” pretty, fit and built and still be HIV-positive. So if you’re serious about protecting yourself, stop using your eyesight as a prevention tool and start using condoms and getting tested every year–even more if your doctor suggests it given your risk factors.
Also, even if your partner is negative, that doesn’t mean you are. You came into that relationship with your own sexual history, so stop testing yourself through your partner’s status and go and a test of your own.
3.) If You’re Pregnant, You Definitely Need To Get Tested
If you’ve found out you’re having a baby, you MUST get tested for HIV.
According to HIV.gov, this is so a woman can begin treatment if they’re HIV-positive and it can strongly reduce the risk of vertical transmission (mother-to-baby). And since docs have been routinely testing pregnant women for HIV, there has been a big decline in the number of children born with HIV.
Remember: The same act of getting pregnant, is the same thing that puts you at risk for HIV infection.
4.) Don’t Assume That Because Your Doctor Is Taking Blood, They’re Testing You For HIV
While the CDC recommends that HIV testing be as routine as getting screened for other chronic illnesses like heart disease and high cholesterol, that isn’t really happening in the doctor’s office. Given certain confidentiality and consent laws, you HAVE TO give verbal (and in some states written) consent for your doctor to test you for HIV. So please don’t think that after all these years of getting an annual physical and not getting a HIV diagnosis means you are in the clear.
You have to speak up to your doctor and let them know you want to be tested. And whatever you do, DO NOT let them talk you out of it because they don’t think you are at risk. Let them know that as a Black woman, you are the face of the disease and you need to get tested for your own peace of mind.
Remember: This is about your health, not theirs.
5.) Nowadays You Can Get Your Results In The Same Day
In the early days of the disease, getting your test results could take weeks, but thanks to medical advancements, nowadays it can take less than 30 minutes. One option is rapid testing, which consists of testing your blood or saliva for HIV antibodies. These tests are usually given at health clinics, doctor’s offices, testing vans and at community events.
There’s also the at-home tests you can purchase. This consists of pricking your finger for blood and sending the sample by mail to a licensed laboratory. Afterwards, you can call in for results as early as the next business day. These results are anonymous, but keep in mind that if you test positive, you need to follow up with the doctor to confirm these results and to get linked into care.
6.) Here’s What Happen After You Get Your Results
OK so here’s the deal: If you test negative, that doesn’t mean you will stay negative for the rest of your life. You need to continue to keep using condoms, having open conversations with your partner(s) and talking to your physician about all of your prevention options. Remember: HIV is 100 percent preventable and you need to keep getting tested to make sure that you are negative.
Now if you test positive for HIV, it’s important to get a confirmation test to make sure your results weren’t a false positive. If you diagnosis is confirmed, you are going to experience a mix of emotions, but it’s important for you to know that HIV doesn’t have to be the death sentence it once was. If you are linked into care and adhere to your medication, HIV can be a manageable disease.
It’s also important to take advantage of support groups in your area in order to talk to others who know what you are going through. No matter what, don’t ever lose sight that can live with this disease.
Learn where you can get tested in your area at gettested.cdc.gov.