5 Reasons to Get an HIV Test Today

The benefits of testing far outweigh the consequences

Since April 2013, HIV testing has recommended that all persons between the ages of 15 and 65 as part of a routine doctor visit. And it's not just because it's the "right thing to do" or because it could very well help turn around this epidemic. The benefits to you, as an individual, can be enormous, whether it's to put your mind at ease about your HIV status or to provide you the means by which to make an informed decision about your health.

That's not to say that there are not challenges, emotional or otherwise, that might keep you from getting tested. But what we can say with complete confidence is that the benefits of HIV testing far outweigh the potential consequences.

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OraQuick In-Home Rapid HIV Test. OraSure Technologies

Inconvenience, discomfort, and confidentiality are three of the most common reason why people avoid HIV testing. But let's be honest: Things have changed enormously in the past few years, with newer tests offering high levels of accuracy, as well greater speed, and ease of use.

Can't bear waiting for an HIV test result? Today, there are numerous rapid testing options that can provide you results in as little as 20 minutes.

Hate needles? No problem there. Saliva-based tests are as widely used today as traditional point-of-care blood tests.

Or perhaps you're worried about medical confidentiality and would rather not walk into a crowded testing site? Why not consider a commercially available in-home HIV test, which puts the control back right where it belongs: in your hands.

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Photo Credit: Peter Cade/Getty Images

Here's what the research tells us, plain and simple: If you are in your 20s and test positive for HIV, you can now live well into your 70s and beyond if provided immediate ​antiretroviral therapy (ART)

Think about it. We're not just talking about adding a few extra years to your life span. We're talking normal longevity, in some cases even higher than the general population.

By contrast, delaying ART, sometimes for years and even decades can take back all of those gains. The same applies if you smoke (take back 12 years), inject drugs (11 years), or take your drugs inconsistently (up to 10 years). 

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Used under a Creative Commons license at http://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Running#/media/File:Running_Man_Kyle_Cassidy.jpg
Photo Credit: Kyle Cassidy

It's not just about the number of years you live; early therapy can afford you both a long life and a healthier life to boot.

The landmark Strategic Timing of Antiretroviral Treatment (START) trial, which investigated the benefits of early treatment versus delayed treatment, concluded that therapy at the time of diagnosis not only reduced the likelihood of illness and death in by some 57 percent but did so irrespective of a person’s age, race, sex, viral load, region of the world, or economic status.

So it no longer matters where you live, what you make, or how old you are. Early testing allows for early treatment, which ensures a longer and healthier life. Who could possibly argue with those numbers?

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Man taking medicine
Man taking medicine. Getty Images/BSIP/UIG/Universal Images Group

Whether you test positive or negative for HIV, knowing your status can help protect yourself from getting or spreading the virus.

Forget about what people tell you about taking responsibility. HIV testing should be about peace of mind and about taking advantage of the biomedical tools that can greatly reduce the risk of HIV, whether for yourself or others.

On the one hand, people on HIV therapy who fully suppress the virus are far less likely to infect others. The strategy, known as "Treatment as Prevention" (TasP), has been shown to reduce the risk of transmission by as much as 96 percent.

If, on the other hand, you test negative for HIV, you can significantly reduce your risk of infection by taking pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). The strategy, recommended for people at high risk of infection, can lower the likelihood of HIV by up to 75 percent.

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HIV-positive orphans taking antiretroviral drugs at the Aidchild Orphanage in Mpigi, Uganda. Credit: Marco di Lauro/Getty Images News

Okay, so maybe this is not about why you, as an individual, should get tested. But imagine a world where we no longer have to worry about HIV. Wouldn't that be great?

Some people think that it's no longer just a pipe dream—that, with universal testing, we can ramp up global treatment programs and reduce viral infectivity within a region to such an extent as to effectively choke out the virus.

Sure, there are challenges to putting an effort like into place, but ultimately it boils down to one thing and one thing alone: convincing an individual of the value and benefits of HIV testing.

Sources: 

Baeten, J.; Donnell, D.; Ndase, P.; et al. "Antiretroviral Prophylaxis for HIV Prevention in Heterosexual Men and Women." New England Journal of Medicine. August 2, 2012; 367(5):399-410.

Cohen, M.; Chen, Y.; McCauley, M.; et al. "Prevention of HIV-1 infection with early antiretroviral therapy." New England Journal of Medicine. August 11, 2011; 365(6):493-505

Hasse, B,; Ledergerber, B.; Egger, M., et al. "Aging and (Non-HIV-associated) Co-morbidity in HIV-positive Persons: The Swiss Cohort Study (SHCS)." 18th Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections, Boston. Abstract 792, 2011.

Helleberg M.; Afzal, S.; Kronborg, G.; et al. "Mortality attributable to smoking among HIV-1-infected individuals: a nationwide population-based cohort study." Clinical Infectious Diseases. March 2013; 56(5): 723-734.

The INSIGHT START Study Group. "Initiation of Antiretroviral Therapy in Early Asymptomatic HIV Infection."New England Journal of Medicine. July 20, 2015; DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa1506816.

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