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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, July 8, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 27
HIV: Test week? What test?
Section One
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HIV: Test week? What test?

by Dr. Eva Hersh - Courtesy of Healthy Living News

The HIV epidemic in the United States has been going on for 30 (thirty!) years now. Many of you don't remember a time before AIDS, but I do. The worst thing that could happen to you from sex was (people thought) herpes. Eeeeewwww, herpes. Did you know that once you have the herpes virus, you will always have it? And even if you take medicine for it, you still might spread it, especially if you don't use a condom?

And you have to tell all your sex partners you have it and they might think you are, like, a slut?

Today, one in four US adults is carrying the genital herpes virus. Even so, people still worry about those same things, and feel that same disgust about herpes. Even though (almost) nobody ever died or even became seriously ill from herpes.

Everything I said about herpes, and a lot more, is true of HIV. Why can't we get people to be as worried about HIV as they are about herpes?

Today, one million Americans have HIV. One in five of them - 200,000 people - do not know they have it because they have not been tested. And about 40,000 more Americans get infected every year, or about one new infection every 13 minutes.

Less than half of American adults have ever been tested for HIV, and lots of those who have been tested have become infected since their last test, but since they don't know that, they still tell prospective partners, 'My test was negative.'

Are you at risk? Almost certainly you are. When were you last tested for HIV? You are at risk if, since your last test:

o You had oral (yes, oral), vaginal, or anal sex and a condom was not in place on the penis for the entire time you were in contact with each other.

o You did not check the expiration date on the condom.

o The condom had been kept in someone's car/wallet/pocket for more than three days.

o You had sex while under the influence of any amount of alcohol or drugs.

o You used an oil-based lubricant (hand lotion, massage oil, Crisco).

o You decided unprotected sex was all right just this once.

o You decided unprotected sex was all right if it is only with your regular partner, even though you don't know when your partner was last tested.

o You decided unprotected sex was all right if it is only with your regular partner, even though you or your partner have had other partners.

o You let the condom slip off inside.

o You decided unprotected sex was all right because this partner seems really nice and really clean.

o Or a hundred other reasons.

Everybody who has sex with anybody should be tested for HIV annually - or more often. Testing is especially important if you have had more than one partner in the past year and live in a high-risk area like the Puget Sound region.

There are lots of places you can get tested, often for free. Contact your local city or county health department. Most health departments have the 20-minute HIV test that is done on saliva collected with a cotton swab - no needles are involved, and you get the results right away. Ignorance does not mean bliss; it means anxiety, danger, and irresponsibility to your partner and to yourself. Please, go get tested this week.

Ask Dr. Eva is distributed by Healthy Living News. Dr. Eva Hersh is chief medical officer at Chase Brexton Health Services. Email comments and questions to dreva@healthylivingnews.org or write to Eva Hersh, M.D., Chase Brexton Health Services, 1001 Cathedral St., Baltimore, MD 21201.

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