National HIV Testing Day is observed on June 27 every year to raise awareness about the importance of testing for HIV.

This year's theme, "Take the Test & Take the Next Step," encourages people to get tested for HIV and helps them choose options to stay healthy regardless of their test results.

HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that attacks the immune system of the body, which when left untreated, leads to AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome).

HIV spreads through body fluids, including blood, breast milk, semen, and vaginal fluids. A few weeks after exposure, infected people may show symptoms such as fever, sore throat, rash, and headache. As the infection progresses, it can weaken the immune system, and a person can suffer from weight loss, swollen lymph nodes, diarrhea, fever, and cough. When left untreated, HIV can cause tuberculosis (TB), cryptococcal meningitis, severe bacterial infections, and certain types of cancers.

There is currently no cure for HIV. However, a person who has HIV can live a healthy life with proper medical care. According to estimates, more than 1.2 million people have HIV in the U.S. However, 13% of them do not know they have the condition.

Why is HIV testing important?

Early HIV diagnosis is crucial, and testing is the only way to determine if a person has HIV. In many cases, HIV does not cause symptoms in its early stages.

Studies have shown that the sooner people start antiretroviral therapy or ART for HIV, the more effective the treatment. Early recognition helps to cut down the viral load of HIV, reduces HIV-related illness, and prevents transmission to others.

Types of HIV tests:

Antibody tests- They detect antibodies to HIV in a person's blood or oral fluid within 23 to 90 days of exposure. It is the only self-test for HIV approved by FDA.

Antigen/antibody tests- They can detect both antibodies and antigens to HIV in the blood drawn from a vein within 18 to 45 days after exposure.

Nucleic acid tests- They are recommended for people with early symptoms of HIV, but have tested negative with an antibody or antigen/antibody test. They detect the actual virus of the disease in the blood.

Who should get tested?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 should get tested for HIV at least once. However, people who are at higher risk of infection should get tested more often. This includes cases where men have sex with men, people with more than one sex partner, and people who have sex with someone with unknown sexual history. The risk is also high for a person with a sexually transmitted infection other than HIV and those who share needles to inject drugs.