|Knowledge is power! You've probably heard that saying hundreds of times. (It's a personal favorite of parents, grandparents and teachers around the world.) Well, when it comes to HIV/AIDS testing that old cliché is 100% true. If you've ever had sex with a man or a woman without a condom, or ever injected drugs (even if only once), the only way to know for sure if you are infected or not is to take the HIV test. Knowing your HIV status, whether negative or positive, empowers you to better protect your health and those you love.
People who test negative and don't have HIV can learn more about how to reduce their risk. Those individuals, who test positive for the virus, will have access to life-saving treatment and will learn how they can stem the spread of HIV/AIDS.
ABOUT THE HIV TEST
Types of HIV Antibody Tests
There are several HIV antibody tests being used today. All testing options are not available in all areas. Contact the provider to find out the specific test they use.
Standard blood test: This is an HIV antibody test that is conducted on a whole blood specimen collected into a tube of blood through a phlebotomy procedure. It is widely used in health cares settings especially in addition to other diagnostic tests. With this test, an initial assay is conducted by the laboratory (the ELISA), and confirmed using a more specific test (the Western Blot). You can ask your health care provider for this type of test. If you are sexually active and/or share needles and syringes, it is recommended that you request this test annually as a part of your annual physical exam.
Oral mucosal transudate test:
This test, similar to the standard blood test and processed in a laboratory but is collected by an absorbent pad placed in a person's mouth, and gently rubbed between the lower cheek and gum to collect an oral fluid called oral mucosal transudate (OMT). This fluid contains HIV antibodies in an HIV-infected person. This test does not test for HIV in saliva. This test doesn NOT involve needles or drawing of blood.
Rapid HIV antibody tests: This is a screening test for HIV antibodies that produces a test result in under 60 minutes. There are there are currently 5 different rapid HIV tests available. Most tests are performed on a fingerstick sample of blood. There is one rapid test that can also be used with oral fluid as the specimen. The result of this type of test is given on the same day and in the same location that the test is administered. As with all screening tests, if the rapid test gives a reactive test result (positive), this result must be confirmed with an additional specific test.
Home Testing Kit: This do-it-yourself test kit uses the same technology as the standard blood test. Individual blood samples are collected at home by a finger stick blood spot specimen, and mailed to a laboratory. Test results are provided over the telephone. The home testing kit is available at many drug stores. Currently there is only one FDA approved home sample collection kit, however there is a push (by HIV/AIDS service providers and prevention specialists) for an in-home test kit using the oral mucosal transudate test. This type of in-home test has yet to be approved.
If the test comes negative, how can I continue to stay negative?
The surest way to avoid HIV is to abstain from sexual intercourse, or to be in a long term mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who has been tested and you known is uninfected. It is also important to maintain constant and open communication about sexual health with this partner, in order to remain safe throughout the relationship.
For persons who are sexually active, correct and consistent use of the male or female condom or can reduce the risk of transmission. Do NOT use a natural or lamb skin condom because of the perforation. It should be made of latex or polyurethane. However, no protective method is 100 percent effective, and condom use cannot guarantee absolute protection against HIV. The more sex partners you have, the greater your chances are of getting HIV or other diseases passed through sex.
Condoms used with a lubricant are less likely to break. However, condoms with the spermicidal nonoxynol-9 are not recommended for STD/HIV prevention(*). Condoms must be used correctly and consistently to be effective and protective. Incorrect use can lead to condom slippage or breakage, thus diminishing the protective effect.
* Note: Some water-based lubricants (including those already on some condoms) contain a spermicide called Nonoxynol-9. Many people are allergic to N-9 and the resulting genital irritation can increase the risk of HIV and STD transmission by providing a direct entry point. You can test for a N-9 allergy by rubbing N-9 lubricant on the inside of the elbow the day before you plan to use the product for sex. If there is no irritation, there is likely no allergy
Do not share needles and syringes used to inject drugs, steroids, vitamins, or for tattooing or body piercing. For a listing of needle exchange programs in the New York City area please visit the LGBT Center’s website by clicking here
Do not share razors or toothbrushes because of they may have the blood of another person on them.
Currently, the Centers for Disease Control is conducting a study on Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) which could possibly be part of comprehensive HIV prevention services in which HIV negative people who are at high risk, take antiretroviral medication daily to try to lower their chances of becoming infected with HIV if they are exposed to it. For more information on PrEP, click here.
For those who may have been exposed there is a Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP). The treatment, which can be accessed from clinics and health centers in many parts of the world, can prevent the virus from becoming established in the body of someone who has been exposed. PEP is particularly important for people who have been sexually assaulted or people who have been exposed to blood through a needle injury or other accident at work. This is not a treatment for someone who has received a positive HIV test result. This is a preventative measure that is immediately prescribed to someone who might have been exposed within the first 48 hours of exposure. PEP, while started immediately after potential expose to HIV, usually consists of a month long course of two or three different types of the antiretroviral drugs that are also prescribed as treatment for people living with HIV. For more information, please visit the following website: click here
What can I do if the test show I have HIV?
If you test positive for HIV, the sooner you take steps to protect your health, the better. Early medical treatment and a healthy lifestyle can help you stay well. Prompt medical care may delay the onset of AIDS and prevent some life-threatening conditions. There are a number of important steps you can take immediately to protect your health:
See a licensed health care provider, even if you do not feel sick. Try to find a health care provider who has experience treating HIV. There are now many medications to treat HIV infection and help you maintain your health. It is never too early to start thinking about treatment possibilities.
Have a TB (tuberculosis) test. You may be infected with TB and not know it. Undetected TB can cause serious illness, but it can be successfully treated if caught early.
Smoking cigarettes, drinking too much alcohol, or using illegal drugs (such as methamphetamines) can weaken your immune system. There are programs available that can help you stop or reduce your use of these substances.
Get screened for other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Undetected STDs can cause serious health problems. It is also important to practice safer-sex behaviors so you can avoid getting STDs, and avoid transmitting HIV.
I am uninsured. Is there an insurance for people living with HIV?
Yes! Not having a commercial health insurance is not an obstacle for you to get treatment. The NYS Department of Health's AIDS Institute has established four programs which provide access to free health care (HIV Drugs, Primary Care, Home Care, and APIC) for New York State residents with HIV infection who are uninsured or underinsured. The program is know as ADAP. Contact an agency from the "Handy Resources" section of this website that provides insurance assistance. They can help you submitting the application. If you want to learn more about the ADAP program, click here.
What are HIV and AIDS?
HIV is the human immunodeficiency virus. It is the virus that can lead to acquired immune deficiency syndrome, or AIDS. The CDC estimates that about 48,100 people in the United States contracted HIV in 2009.
There are two types of HIV, HIV-1 and HIV-2. In the United States, unless otherwise noted, the term “HIV” primarily refers to HIV-1.
Both types of HIV damage a person’s body by destroying specific blood cells, called CD4+ T cells, which are crucial to helping the body fight diseases.
Within a few weeks of being infected with HIV, some people develop flu-like symptoms that last for a week or two, but others have no symptoms at all. People living with HIV may appear and feel healthy for several years. However, even if they feel healthy, HIV is still affecting their bodies. All people with HIV should be seen on a regular basis by a health care provider experienced with treating HIV infection. Many people with HIV, including those who feel healthy, can benefit greatly from current medications used to treat HIV infection. These medications can limit or slow down the destruction of the immune system, improve the health of people living with HIV, and may reduce their ability to transmit HIV. Untreated early HIV infection is also associated with many diseases including cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, liver disease, and cancer. Support services are also available to many people with HIV. These services can help people cope with their diagnosis, reduce risk behavior, and find needed services.
AIDS is the late stage of HIV infection, when a person’s immune system is severely damaged and has difficulty fighting diseases and certain cancers. Before the development of certain medications, people with HIV could progress to AIDS in just a few years. Currently, people can live much longer - even decades - with HIV before they develop AIDS. This is because of “highly active” combinations of medications that were introduced in the mid 1990s.
No one should become complacent about HIV and AIDS. While current medications can dramatically improve the health of people living with HIV and slow progression from HIV infection to AIDS, existing treatments need to be taken daily for the rest of a person’s life, need to be carefully monitored, and come with costs and potential side effects. At this time, there is no cure for HIV infection. Despite major advances in diagnosing and treating HIV infection, in 2009, 34,993 cases of AIDS were diagnosed and over 17,000 deaths among people living with HIV were reported in the United States. 
HIV is spread primarily by:
- Not using a condom when having sex with a person who has HIV. All unprotected sex with someone who has HIV contains some risk. However:
- Unprotected anal sex is riskier than unprotected vaginal sex.
- Among men who have sex with other men, unprotected receptive anal sex is riskier than unprotected insertive anal sex.
- Having multiple sex partners or the presence of other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) can increase the risk of infection during sex. Unprotected oral sex can also be a risk for HIV transmission, but it is a much lower risk than anal or vaginal sex.
- Sharing needles, syringes, rinse water, or other equipment used to prepare illicit drugs for injection.
- Being born to an infected mother—HIV can be passed from mother to child during pregnancy, birth, or breast-feeding.
Becoming educated about HIV and understanding the facts about transmission is the first, and perhaps most important way to prevent the spread of HIV. It is essential for people to make informed decisions about the level of risk they are willing to take, based on what is realistic for them.
Abstaining from sex and needle sharing is the most effective way for people to protect themselves from HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. However, when abstinence is not an option for people, using barrier protection such as latex or polyurethane condoms (male or female), with a water based lubricant*, is the next best thing. For oral-to-vaginal or oral-to-anal contact, a latex dental dam or kitchen plastic wrap can be used as effective barrier protection. If people do share needles, cleaning the needles and works properly with bleach and water before and after each person uses them will help reduce the risk.
* Note: Some water-based lubricants (including those already on some condoms) contain a spermicide called Nonoxynol-9. Many people are allergic to N-9 and the resulting genital irritation can increase the risk of HIV and STD transmission by providing a direct entry point. You can test for a N-9 allergy by rubbing N-9 lubricant on the inside of the elbow the day before you plan to use the product for sex. If there is no irritation, there is likely no allergy.
Current HIV antiviral treatments and treatments for opportunistic infections are prolonging the lives of many HIV+ individuals. However, many of the drugs used to treat HIV are very harsh on the body, very difficult to take, and don’t work for some people. Research is making great strides toward developing vaccines and better medications for people who are living with HIV, but there is still no cure.
Most people who are taking HIV treatments are taking two or more medications at the same time. This is called Highly Active Anti-Retroviral Therapy (HAART). It may also be called combination therapy or “the cocktail.” Combination therapy has been found most effective at combating HIV by attacking the virus in many different ways. There are currently three main classes of medications that are used to treat HIV: Entry Inhibitors, Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors (Nucleoside, Non-Nucleoside, Nucleotide), and Protease Inhibitors.
HIV/AIDS impact in the Latino communities
HIV has had a devastating and disproportionate impact in our Latino/Hispanic communities. It is estimated that approximately 205,000 Latinos are currently living with HIV/AIDS in the United States . Sadly, over 40% of those infected continue to learn of their HIV status late in the disease, with some receiving an AIDS diagnosis within a year of their HIV diagnosis. This does NOT have to be. Don't delay getting tested! Finding out about HIV infection in an early stage, gives individuals the best chance to benefit from better health care and social support services.
Facts you should know
- Every 12.5 minutes, someone in the United States is infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
- Of the estimated 1 million people living with HIV in the United States, 1 out of 5 does not know they are infected.
- In 2009, Latinos in New York State represent 17.0% of the population but account for 32.0% (40,400) of people living HIV/AIDS
- In New York State, among adult Latino men HIV transmission is primarily through men who have sex with men (MSM), with heterosexual contact as the next most frequent risk.
- In New York State, among adult Latina women HIV transmission is primarily through heterosexual contact.
 (n.d.) HIV in the United States: An Overview. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved May 25, 2012 from http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/topics/surveillance/resources/factsheets/us_overview.htm
 (March 26, 2012) U.S. Statistics. AIDS.gov. Retrieved May 25, 2012
 Kaiser Family Foundation. HIV/AIDS Policy Fact Sheet: Latinos and
HIV/AIDS. October 2012.