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Know the importance of HIV testing, and who should get one.

Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) is a chronic, potentially life-threatening condition caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). By damaging your immune system, HIV interferes with your body’s ability to fight infection and disease. Most people who get HIV get it through anal or vaginal sex, or sharing needles, syringes, or other drug injection equipment. HIV testing or HIV screening is the only way to find out if a person has the HIV virus or not. There are a number of tests available to check for the virus. These tests check the blood and other body fluids for the virus.

  • A NAT looks for the actual virus in the blood and involves drawing blood from a vein. The test can either tell if a person has HIV or tell how much virus is present in the blood (known as an HIV viral load test). While a NAT can detect HIV sooner than other types of tests, this test is very expensive and not routinely used for screening individuals unless they recently had a high-risk exposure or a possible exposure and have early symptoms of HIV infection.
  • An antigen/antibody test looks for both HIV antibodies and antigens. Antibodies are produced by your immune system when you’re exposed to viruses like HIV. Antigens are foreign substances that cause your immune system to activate. If you have HIV, an antigen called p24 is produced even before antibodies develop. This lab test involves drawing blood from a vein. There is also a rapid antigen/antibody test available that is done with a finger prick.
  • Nucleic acid test – This test is also known as an RNA test. It looks for the virus itself, and not the antibodies it produces. The test is expensive but is recommended by doctors if a patient is at high risk and is already experiencing the initial symptoms of an HIV infection.
  • In-home testing kits – Tests that test oral fluid, or even blood for the virus and can be used at home are available in some parts of the world. However, these may be less credible as opposed to lab tests.
  • Antibody tests – As the name suggests, this testing method tries to identify the protein that the body makes post an HIV infection. The test can detect antibodies within 2 to 8 weeks of infection. These tests are also called immunoassay or ELISA tests and are generally very accurate. Rapid versions of the test are also available but have a risk of false negatives.

Who should get tested for HIV/AIDS?

One should get tested for HIV/AIDS if –

  • They have had several sexual partners
  • Have had unprotected sexual contact with someone who could be HIV-positive
  • Has been injected with a used needle, syringe or other devices
  • Has had any other sexually transmitted disease or had intercourse with someone who has a history of these.

HIV testing is essential for slowing the spread of HIV infection. Many people are unaware that they’re infected with HIV , so they may be less likely to take precautions to help prevent spreading the virus to others.

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