June 27 - National HIV Testing Day
HIV continues to be a serious public health concern in the United States, where it affects more than 1.2 million Americans. Getting tested for HIV is key to ending this epidemic, given how nearly 40 percent of new infections are transmitted by people who don’t know they have the virus, reports the CDC.
June 27 of every year is National HIV Testing Day—a day that was first observed in 1995 to spread awareness of the importance of getting tested for HIV.
The month of June is also LGBTQ+ Pride Month, which is celebrated to honor and recognize equal justice and opportunities for Americans who identify as LGBTQ+. Practicing safer sex regardless of your gender or identity can help you reduce your risk of contracting and transmitting HIV.
Why is Testing for HIV Important?
Testing for HIV is the first step you can take toward maintaining a healthy lifestyle and preventing the transmission of HIV—especially if you have the virus and haven’t been diagnosed.
The sooner you get tested, the sooner you can find out whether you have HIV. If you have the virus, it’s critical to begin treatment. According to the CDC, people with HIV who receive antiretroviral therapy (ART) can remain healthy for many years and prevent HIV from progressing into AIDS.
Who Should Get Tested for HIV, and How Often?
The CDC recommends that anyone who is between the ages of 13 and 64 should be tested for HIV at least once in their lifetime. People at higher risk for HIV should be tested at least once a year. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), this includes:
- People who have sex without condoms.
- People who have multiple sexual partners.
- Males who have sex with other males.
- Babies born to mothers who have HIV.
- People who have other sexually transmitted infections, including syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, herpes, and bacterial vaginosis.
- People who use injection drugs like heroin and methamphetamine, given how sharing needles and syringes can spread HIV.
- People who misuse alcohol, drugs, and other substances that impair judgment and lead to risky behaviors.
Where to Get Tested
HIV testing is widely available in the U.S., where it is offered by many healthcare providers and community health centers. The Affordable Care Act requires health insurance providers to cover the cost of HIV testing without a co-pay. If you do not have health insurance, many testing sites offer the HIV test for free.
HIV testing is available at places including:
- Your healthcare provider’s office.
- Community health centers.
- Sexual health clinics.
- Retail lab testing sites.
- Local health departments.
- Family planning clinics.
- Veterans Affairs medical centers.
- Addiction treatment programs.
- Substance abuse prevention programs.
Visit gettested.cdc.gov or call 1-800-CDC-INFO (232-4636) if you need help finding an HIV testing site near you.
Reduce the Stigma and Shame of Being Tested
Some people avoid getting tested for HIV due to the stigma and shame surrounding the concept of living with HIV or being at risk for HIV. These negative attitudes and judgments that surround HIV can often discourage people from getting tested or seeking treatment for HIV. It can also prevent people from talking openly with their sex partners about getting tested for HIV and practicing safer sex.
Standing up to HIV-related shame and stigma is a productive and important way to honor National HIV Testing Day and LGBTQ+ Pride Month. Steps you can take to combat HIV stigma include:
- Educating yourself about HIV-related facts and how the disease is spread.
- Learning about and sharing the personal stories of people who are healthy and living with HIV.
- Spreading awareness about the CDC’s recommendations on HIV testing.
- Donating your time toward raising awareness about safer sex, HIV testing, and effective HIV treatments.
- Promoting HIV prevention, testing, treatment, and anti-stigma messaging on your social media accounts. Please feel free to use these Social Media Toolkits from the CDC to build your content.
How to Ask a Partner to be Tested
The best time to talk to your sexual partner about getting tested for HIV is before you engage in any type of sexual activity, including oral sex. Getting tested for HIV and making sure your partner has also been tested is one of the most effective ways to prevent HIV.
When having this conversation with your partner, be open and honest about why you want to get tested for HIV and why you think it’s important. Suggest that you both get tested together so you can be there to support one another. If your partner declines HIV testing, consider whether pursuing a relationship with that person is in your best interests, especially from a health standpoint.
Signs and Symptoms of HIV
HIV is characterized by certain sets of signs and symptoms that will vary depending on the phase of your infection. Some people with HIV may not experience symptoms at all for many years until their disease becomes more severe.
Symptoms of HIV may include:
- Fever or chills
- Night sweats
- Muscle aches
- Joint pain
- Swollen lymph glands
- Sore throat or painful mouth sores
- Weight loss
- Oral yeast infection
Make an appointment with your healthcare provider right away if you think you may have HIV or have had sex with someone who tested positive for HIV. Your healthcare provider can do an HIV test and discuss your available treatment options, including ART if you test positive.
Is There an HIV Vaccine?
At present, there is no vaccine available that can prevent HIV. However, the NIH has clinical trials underway that are examining mRNA technology for HIV, and that are also testing the effects of vaccines called Imbokodo and Mosaico in volunteers.
Ask your healthcare provider about the status and availability of HIV vaccines during your routine wellness appointments. You can also visit the CDC’s website regularly for updates about HIV vaccines and clinical trials, and to learn more about HIV testing.
Research and materials for this article were compiled, written, and distributed on behalf of the National Public Health Information Coalition. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the various authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the National Public Health Information Coalition or its members.