As the community recognizes World AIDS Day, health experts at Baylor College of Medicine recommend that everyone should be doing it—getting tested for HIV, that is.
According to Dr. Monisha Arya, assistant professor of medicine – infectious disease at Baylor, knowing whether or not you are infected is the first step to living a healthy life.
Why is testing important?
“There are more than 1 million people infected with HIV throughout the United States, and more than 20,000 of them are living in Houston. Sadly, almost one out of every five people living with HIV in Houston does not know they have it,” said Arya, who also is the lead physician for HIV testing in the Harris Health System. “The only way to find out if you are infected is to get tested.”
Arya said that once a person knows, he or she can make smart health decisions such as continuing to take the proper precautions if negative or, if positive, starting treatment before the virus advances. Current medications—especially if started near the time of diagnosis—not only make it possible to live a long and healthy life, but also significantly lower the chance of giving HIV to a partner.
Unfortunately, in Houston one in four people find out they have HIV after it is too late—at or near the time of an AIDS diagnosis. At that point, a life-threatening infection or cancer might already be progressing, or they might have passed HIV to their partners without knowing it. Getting routinely tested for HIV is the only sure way to know if you are infected, said Arya.
Who should be tested?
Haley Marek, a senior public health student at the University of Texas at Austin who recently interned at Baylor in the department of medicine – infectious disease, said that HIV doesn’t discriminate—it can affect anyone.
“No matter your race, religion, ethnicity, age or gender, you could be infected with HIV. Even if you look and feel healthy, you might be infected. It is important to get tested for HIV to find out,” she said.
Some are at higher risk for HIV and should get tested more frequently, such as those who have more than one sex partner, have another sexually transmitted disease (STD), are a gay or bisexual man or inject drugs.
Where does testing take place?
Arya says everyone should talk to their doctor about testing. However, even if a person does not have a regular doctor, there still are options for regular testing.
“There are usually sites offering fast and confidential HIV testing, a quick search online can help locate one in the area. It is typically free with health insurance, but many sites also offer it for free or at low cost without insurance,” said Arya. “There is no reason not to be ‘doing it’! Join the movement and get HIV tested today.”
Houstonians: for free or low cost HIV tests near you, call the Houston Health Department at 832-393-5010.
For more information about HIV testing, visit the CDC’s Act Against AIDS webpage. Join the CDC’s effort to spread awareness of the importance of HIV testing through social media by using #DoingIt.