HIV: Getting Past the Fear

Almost 1.2 million people in the United States are living with HIV. But research shows that more than 160,000 of them do not know their status. According to the CDC, nearly 40% of new HIV infections are transmitted by people who do not know they are carriers of the virus.

For many, there are several reasons that may prevent them from taking a test. Fear of death, stigma and discrimination or negative judgment when testing positive are just a few.

But taking a test is the first step in knowing your status. This is important information that will help you take charge of your health and prevent the viral infection that can cause AIDS.

Denial plays a role

For Kelly Gluckman of Seattle, HIV was the last thing on her mind when she quit using condoms with her partner without getting tested for the virus almost 11 years ago.

“I knew it wasn’t the smartest decision,” says Gluckman, 34.

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She was 23 at the time, and although she knew about HIV testing through comprehensive sex education in school, she says that as a “white, straight woman” she just didn’t get over it. never seen at risk of contracting HIV. But after about 6 months of unprotected sex, Gluckman and her partner decided to get tested to rule out HIV as a precaution.

“We both tested positive on October 25, 2010. We were both pretty devastated,” says Gluckman.

“The immediate thought was, ‘Oh my God, I’m going to die.’ It was really the first thought. I faced mortality, because “HIV turns into AIDS and then you die”. This was exactly what was revealed to me from what I had seen in the media and what I had learned in school, ”says Gluckman.

When she thinks about it, Gluckman says that denial played a role in the reluctance to take a test.

“For 3 of those 6 months, we were talking about going and getting tested, and then we just wouldn’t do it,” Gluckman says.

Perceptions exceeded

David Pantalone, professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts in Boston, says that many people still tend to have a “frightening view of the situation.” [HIV]. He thinks it may have something to do with outdated images and stories about HIV from the 1980s.

“I think there is no revised public conception of what it is like to have HIV,” says Pantalone. “The reason is that what it looks like to have HIV now is basically the same as not having HIV. The data on life expectancy between HIV-positive and HIV-negative people are not much different. “

Treatment gives hope

Although HIV cannot be cured, the treatment, antiretroviral therapy (ART), is very effective. It reduces the amount of HIV virus in your body or your viral load. If you take the medicine exactly as your doctor has told you, the viral load may become so low that it becomes “undetectable” when tested for HIV. When this happens, there is little or no chance of developing symptoms of the infection or spreading it to others. Usually you can get HIV under control with medication in just under 6 months.

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Gluckman saw positive results soon after he started taking his medication.

“I haven’t had any side effects that I can talk about. And my viral load went undetectable within 2 months, ”says Gluckman.

“I thought, ‘Oh my god I’m going to live, I can be healthy with this thing, with this virus.'”

When should you be tested for HIV?

The CDC recommends that all people between the ages of 13 and 64 get tested for HIV at least once in their lifetime. Usually, you can do this during your annual checkup. If you have not taken the test, ask your doctor about it.

If you’re at a higher risk, you need to be tested more often – every 3 or 6 months to be sure. But Pantalone says the lack of testing is also a result of people mistaking the fact that high disease risk “fits into an identity” when it comes to a virus spread by common human behavior. , like having sex.

“If you’ve had sex without a condom with someone, you need an HIV test. Even if the risk is low, you should still do it periodically because you never know, ”says Pantalone.

According to the CDC, you are at greater risk of contracting HIV if you can answer “yes” to any of the following questions:

  • Are you a man who has had sex with another man?
  • Have you had sex – anal or vaginal – with someone who is HIV positive?
  • Have you had more than one sexual partner since your last HIV test?
  • Have you shared needles, injection drugs, or other injection drug equipment with others?
  • Have you had sex for drugs or money?
  • Have you been diagnosed or treated for other sexually transmitted diseases?
  • Have you been diagnosed or treated for hepatitis or tuberculosis (TB)?
  • Have you had sex with someone whose sexual history you did not know?

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If any of these apply to you, you may be eligible for an annual HIV test even if your last test was negative.

If you are pregnant, ask your doctor for an HIV test. If you become infected with HIV when you are pregnant, tell your doctor as soon as possible. Your doctor can give you the right medicines to help you and your baby stay healthy.

It is also good practice to get tested for HIV and know your status before having sex with a new partner for the first time. It’s always a good idea to ask questions about their sexual and drug use history before engaging in sex. If you are living with HIV, tell them your status. If you are not sure about your HIV status or that of your partner, be sure to wear a condom. This can help protect your health or prevent others from getting the infection.

What to ask your doctor

If you think you have been exposed to HIV or have what you think are symptoms, talk to your doctor as soon as possible. Getting an HIV test or talking to your doctor about HIV can seem bothersome and stressful. But coming prepared can help you cope better.

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Take a list of questions with you to get the most reliable information. This can help your doctor develop a treatment plan that is best for you.

Even if you find out that you do not have HIV, it is still a good time to ask questions and learn more about how to avoid the possibility of HIV infection. You can ask questions like:

  • How can I protect myself from HIV?
  • How often should I get tested?
  • Does my sexual partner also need a test?
  • Do you offer advice on HIV prevention or recommend a place that does?

If you don’t want to go alone, ask a friend or family member to come with you for emotional support. If you are diagnosed with HIV, your doctor can direct you to many resources to get the help and treatment you need to get the infection under control.

If you’re trying to persuade a close friend or loved one to get tested for HIV, Pantalone says it can help get them thinking about how knowing their HIV status or getting tested can help prevent it. spread to other people they know. .

You are more than just a virus

Stigma and lack of proper care can exist even among healthcare providers, according to Pantalone. But he says you better not let that bother you.

“I think people who are in ongoing health care and want to start getting tested for HIV, (should) talk to their health care provider. And if that supplier doesn’t support you, then change, ”Pantalone says. “Going to an organization that specifically serves the HIV community is a great way to be welcomed with open arms and without judgment.”

Ultimately, Gluckman says it’s important to remember that if you test positive for HIV, you are more than the virus in your body.

“You have a virus. Like any other bacteria, any other virus. You are worthy of respect, you are worthy of love, you are worthy of health, you are worthy of good sex. HIV is just the virus. “

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