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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, September 7, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 36
Dr. J asks: What's your frequency?
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Dr. J asks: What's your frequency?

Find out at www.FindYourFrequency.com

by Dr. Joanne Stekler - Special to the SGN

You know you're supposed to go to the dentist every six months to get your teeth cleaned, and that you should check the batteries in your smoke detectors every six months. But do you know how often you personally should get an HIV test, if you're HIV-negative and sexually active?

Public Health-Seattle & King County, in collaboration with the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department and Snohomish Health District, have created a unique online calculator that tells anyone who uses it how often to test for HIV infection. You can find it at www.FindYourFrequency.com. In addition to the interactive testing calculator, the website has some great information about HIV and the testing process, options, and locations. It also features a service that sends you a reminder, by e-mail or by text, when it's time for your next test.

HIV testing remains one of our most important tools in the fight against HIV and AIDS. If you're HIV-negative, knowing your HIV status means you can take steps to protect yourself from getting infected. If you're HIV-positive, knowing your status means you can get care for your infection and plan for when to go on HIV meds. With HIV meds, people who have HIV can enjoy a near-normal life span. And knowing your status means you can take steps to prevent others from getting infected too.

If you're a sexually active Gay or Bi guy and you're HIV-negative, you should get tested for HIV and other STDs at least once a year, unless you're in a monogamous relationship with another negative guy. You should get tested every three months if you:

o use drugs like meth or poppers,

o had anal sex in the past year with someone who was a different HIV status than you or whose status you didn't know,

o had sex with more than 10 people in the last year (that's any kind of sex!), or

o had chlamydia, gonorrhea, or syphilis recently.

Guys who meet one or more of these criteria are at high risk of getting infected with HIV, so it's especially important to make HIV testing part of your regular routine. Use the calculator at www.FindYourFrequency.com to find the testing frequency that's right for you.

HIV testing has gotten much easier in recent years. For those of you who don't like getting your blood drawn, rapid tests use finger sticks or even mouth swabs. The tests have also gotten better - when the first HIV test came out in 1985, it could take up to six months after someone got infected before the test would reliably detect antibodies to HIV. Newer tests are quite accurate about four to six weeks after someone gets infected. There is still a window period because most tests rely on the body to make antibodies to HIV, which can take several weeks. But if you get tested at the STD Clinic, Gay City, or the baths, RNA tests can detect the actual virus about two weeks after infection.

Find your frequency and make a plan. If you're a guy who has sex with other guys, you can get tested for HIV and other STDs at Public Health's STD Clinic, Gay City, the baths, or your doctor's office. For hours and locations of these and other places that do HIV testing, call 206-263-2000 or go to www.FindYourFrequency.com.

While it's important to set up a personal testing routine, you don't need to wait if you develop new concerns before it's time for your regular test. Maybe a partner tells you he just found out he is HIV-positive. Or maybe you get symptoms that could be a sign of a recent infection, such as a fever, rash, or feeling like you have the flu. Go get tested. It feels better when you know.

Joanne Stekler, M.D., M.P.H., is deputy director of community services for the HIV/STD Program at Public Health-Seattle & King County. She is also an internal medicine and infectious disease physician at Harborview Medical Center, and assistant professor of medicine and epidemiology at the University of Washington. This article is part of a series focusing on HIV and other STD prevention and care topics for Gay/Bisexual men and Transgender individuals in Seattle and King County.

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