Why HIV Testing Is Crucial Amid Ongoing COVID-19 Outbreak
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a highly dreaded one for many people because it has no cure yet. However, evidence shows that it does not always kill as fast as some other viruses, including coronaviruses.
The world is currently battling the COVID-19 virus, also called SARS-CoV-2. Unlike HIV, this pathogen currently has no universally accepted treatment. While most people that are infected do beat the virus, it takes less time, compared to HIV, for it to kill those who are unlucky.
People living with HIV are among the groups at a higher risk of dying from a coronavirus infection. This makes it all the more vital for persons at risk to know their status. Read on to learn more about why HIV testing is especially essential at this time and what to expect.
Why Testing is Important
The symptoms a person may see when they have an HIV infection include:
Looking at these symptoms, you may agree that they are not exclusive to HIV. Other medical conditions may also produce similar negative effects.
You cannot really tell that you have this particular sexual infection on your own. Testing is crucial for you to be sure.
Besides, it is not everyone that has the virus that will produce these symptoms. Many infected persons do not show any signs until some years after exposure.
In the United States, an estimate has it that around 15 percent of roughly 1.2 million people living with the virus are unaware of it.
Testing enables you to know your status and to take the necessary steps to protect your health. Even though the virus still doesn’t have a cure, there are effective drugs that can help you lead a healthy and long life. The earlier you detect the virus, the more help you may get from treatments.
Beyond protecting your own health, knowing your HIV status may help you preserve the health of your sexual partner. It can play a part in checking the spread of the virus.
HIV Testing and Coronavirus
It is now more important than ever for people to know their HIV status with the current outbreak of COVID-19. This is especially crucial for people who are sexually active.
SARS-CoV-2 does not have a standard, proven cure at this time. And people who have weakened immune systems are particularly vulnerable to it.
As you may be aware, HIV weakens the immunity of an infected person. Such an individual becomes less able to repel other opportunistic infections. This means that the COVID-19 virus may be even more deadly against someone who already has HIV and is not on treatment.
It is certainly a very scary proposition for someone to have both HIV and SARS-CoV-2.
It is, therefore, a wise decision to seek testing at this time.
Who Needs HIV Testing?
HIV tests are for everyone. This is mainly because there are different ways by which a person may get the virus, including through syringes or needle sharing.
However, testing is particularly advisable for people that are sexually active. The vast majority of infection cases result from sexual acts.
You should consider going for an HIV test if you:
- Have multiple sexual partners
- Have had unprotected sexual intercourse with a person of a different or the same gender
- Shared equipment for injecting drugs, including needles and syringes, with another person
- Have another sexually transmitted disease or infection
It doesn’t stop there. Testing is also advisable if your sexual partner has any of the risk factors mentioned.
It is highly essential for pregnant women with any of these risk factors to get tested. This may help to keep their baby from contracting the virus.
HIV Test Types
There are three major types of HIV tests. The best type to use may depend on how long you have been exposed to the virus.
HIV Antibody Tests
These tests look for the presence of antibodies that your body produces in response to HIV. The proteins help to tag the virus for your immune system to get rid of it, although without success. The absence of these antibodies typically means that you do not have the infection.
You usually need to wait roughly three months after exposure to the virus before these tests can spot it.
HIV Antibody-Antigen (Ab-Ag) Tests
In addition to the antibodies your body produces in response to HIV, these tests go further to look for an antigen called p24. This structural protein is usually already present in the body before the production of antibodies kicks off. Its levels are typically high after exposure to the virus.
Ab-Ag tests make it possible to detect HIV faster, compared to antibody tests. It is possible to use them to unearth the virus within two to six weeks after infection.
Nucleic Acid Tests (NATs)
The main focus of this type of test is neither antibodies nor antigens. A NAT test, such as the HIV RNA test, searches for the virus itself in the blood. It specifically looks for HIV’s genetic material.
While the tests cost more, they currently offer the fastest method for detecting HIV-1, the type prevalent in the U.S. They can spot the virus as early as about nine days following exposure.
Where to Test for HIV
You can easily access testing for HIV at a local clinic or laboratory. It doesn’t take a lot of time to do. You only have to provide a sample, which could be blood, urine, or oral fluid.
While it can be quite easy and fast to get tested these days, many people are still reluctant to know their status. They find it rather embarrassing to approach a technician at a lab for testing. There is something of a stigma attached to this, whether real or not.
If what people might say or think is a stumbling block, you can consider getting tested through STDcheck. This STD testing service offers a high level of privacy – you can remain anonymous all through the process.
STDcheck offers you two types of HIV tests: a fourth-generation HIV test and an HIV RNA test. The first tests for antibodies to both HIV-1 and HIV-2 as well as the p24 antigen. The HIV RNA test, on the other hand, is a NAT test that enables much earlier detection of the virus and validation of positive results from the other test.
How HIV Treatment Helps
If your test results show that you are HIV positive, you should commence treatment right away. Timely management of the virus can enable you to live a healthy, normal life for many more years.
There is currently no cure for this STD. Treatment focuses on blocking the harmful effects of the virus rather than getting rid of it on the whole.
The use of drugs to treat HIV infection is called antiretroviral therapy. These medications, given daily in a combination, help to control the virus to make healthy living possible.
Antiretrovirals aim to reduce the viral load in a patient’s body and inhibit the harmful effects of the virus on the immune system. The drugs seek to reduce viral load to undetectable levels, making transmission of the virus practically impossible.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that HIV drugs might also offer protection against coronavirus.
Thai doctors were able to successfully treat a Chinese patient using the anti-HIV drugs lopinavir and ritonavir together with flu medication. A recent paper in JAMA reports that three out of five patients also got better after treatment with these drugs.
In conclusion, HIV testing at this time may very well help you avert being the next victim of COVID-19.
Why get tested for HIV? | Avert (https://www.avert.org/why-get-tested-hiv)