This past April marked the 30th anniversary of the day scientists discovered HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) was the cause of AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). Two months later, and the U.S. again celebrates the advances made in HIV research with National HIV Testing Day.
Since last year’s observance of National HIV Testing Day, a number of disease-related breakthroughs have cropped up around the country. Perhaps the most telling, in terms of understanding the disease’s pathology, involved a newborn girl who had developed HIV in utero. Within hours of her birth, doctors administered anti-HIV drugs, and in the months that followed observed a functional cure of the disease. Quick action, it seemed, mattered most.
Who Should Get Tested
The same holds true for disease prevention: The earlier a person gets tested and can begin treatment, the greater his or her chances of minimizing the disease’s severity. And according to recent research, the population that stands the most to gain from HIV Testing Day, thanks to immediate feedback, is also the most at-risk.
A study from 2013 confirms it — youth patients prefer and benefit most from HIV testing that delivers a diagnosis via saliva tests or simple finger pricks, in a matter of minutes, rather than traditional and invasive blood tests that take weeks to report back. This is important, considering 60 percent of youth HIV carriers don’t know they have the disease, which means they will never think to get treatment or protect against transmitting their HIV to others. And according to the research, they’re more likely to receive their results with simpler methods, at 91.3 percent for simple methods versus 46.7 percent for blood tests. Basically, young people don’t follow up.
"As a physician, I have a lot of anxiety about youth who don't know or don't receive their HIV status," said Dr. Suzanne Turner, study leader and an addictions physician, at the time. "Results within the same appointment provide the opportunity to address high-risk behaviors with youth if they're negative and identify next steps, prevention measures and treatment for those who are positive."
Where To Get Tested
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wants you to get tested, and apparently they also want to make it easy for you to find out where to get that test. Alternatively, the U.S. government has taken it upon itself to provide a catalog of resources related to HIV testing, including locating testing centers in your area, participating in the observance through social media, joining preplanned events, learning about the history of HIV, and planning events of your own within the local community.
The test comes in one of several flavors, and all of them screen for the same thing: antibodies. Blood, urine, and saliva tests — whether rapid or lab-done — don’t actually search for HIV, as it often appears in many different forms. Searching for one or all of them would either be time-consuming or costly, so researchers instead look for the single army of antibodies the body sends to fight the invading virus. In other words, where there’s smoke, there’s fire.
Overall, the CDC estimates that at the end of 2009, the most recent year data is available, some 1.1 million people 13 years and older were living with HIV in the U.S. Roughly 208,000 of those infections go undiagnosed. Approximately 50,000 new infections occur each year in the U.S., many of which can turn into otherwise long and healthy lives with proper medication. Worldwide, however, the virus remains one of the leading causes of death.
Find a location near you to participate in National HIV Testing Day here.