Despite new treatments and medicines reducing the risk of HIV transmission and infection, HIV prevention is still critical. Even the latest treatments rely on early diagnosis and testing to effectively administer medicines as soon as they're required.
HIV prevention is about more than just sexual education and understanding and mitigating personal risk factors. It also involves regular preventative testing for HIV – so that infections can be detected as early as possible and potentially exposed contacts can be traced and tested as well.
All individuals who are at risk of HIV should not only take effective HIV prevention measures, such as using condoms and not sharing needles for intravenous drug injection, but also routinely preventatively test for HIV, which is most conveniently done with highly accurate and rapid HIV home test
In this article, we'll explore the key aspects of preventative testing for HIV, share some helpful tips for HIV prevention, and discuss the risk factors that indicate a need for regular testing.
If left untreated, HIV eventually progresses into AIDS, or Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome. AIDS is characterized by a sharp decline in white blood cell count, leading to an increased risk of infection by other microorganisms. As the immune system becomes compromised, the body loses its ability to fight off these infections, which, at that stage, become life-threatening.
In recent decades, advances in HIV treatment have significantly decreased the rates of infected adults who reach the AIDS stage of the illness. Antiretroviral drugs and other adjuvant treatments boost the immune system and suppress the viral load, sometimes to undetectable levels.
However, in order to be effective, HIV treatments still need to be applied as early as possible following the infection. This is where preventative testing comes in.
Regular preventative testing for HIV in those at risk of contracting the virus, regardless of the existence of symptoms, is the single most important factor in increasing the rate of early diagnoses and enabling the treatment to do what it's designed for.
Preventative testing and timely treatment also help curb secondary infections. An infected person who is diagnosed early has a realistic chance at lowering the viral load to a level where the risk of infecting partners, even without protection, becomes minimal. This is known as "treatment as prevention," and preventative testing for HIV is the key to its effectiveness.
Nowadays, reliable, affordable, and easy-to-use HIV home test kits make preventative testing for HIV an option available to anyone who lives in an area where they can be delivered.
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The only way to know if you have HIV is by taking an HIV test. There are three primary types of HIV tests available:
These tests detect the virus in the blood by screening for parts of the viral genetic code. They're very precise and can detect HIV earlier than other tests (10 to 33 days after infection), but they can be quite expensive to conduct.
Because of the cost, they are rarely used for preventative HIV screening ; they are typically conducted when there's been a recent high risk of exposure or when early symptoms of HIV infection are showing up.
These tests screen the blood for both HIV antibodies and antigens. The immune system produces antibodies in response to the HIV infection; however, before antibodies are generated, the virus itself produces antigens proteins .
The antigen part of the test specifically looks for the p24 protein , which is produced 2–3 weeks after infection . The presence of p24 drops to undetectable levels 1–2 months after that , after which the antibody levels should be high enough to detect.
These tests are mostly available in clinical settings , but HIV home test kits with antigen detection do exist. Antigen/antibody tests are highly useful in preventative HIV screening because they can return reliable results earlier than tests that only screen for antibodies.
Antibody tests solely detect antibodies within the blood or saliva of the testee. Many clinical tests and most HIV home test kits screen for antibodies, and these are typically the most affordable HIV tests available (sometimes free in certain testing centers or clinics).
While antibody tests are highly reliable , they can only accurately detect the infection when the level of antibodies in the sample is sufficient .
Antibodies take time to form, and, depending on the individual's immune system, this process can take anywhere between 23 and 90 days after infection. If an antibody test is done within this 'window' period, the results cannot be considered reliable and the testing process needs to be repeated after the 90-day mark.
With their affordability and the mass availability of antibody HIV home test kits , antibody tests are extremely valuable tools for preventative HIV screening , provided they are done regularly.
When we discuss HIV, the term "at-risk" groups is often mentioned. These groups encompass people whose risk of contracting HIV is significantly higher than the norm.
While everyone who handles syringes and needles or engages in sexual intercourse with multiple partners (or by proxy through a single partner), even with protection, would benefit from regular preventative testing for HIV, at-risk groups are advised to routinely test themselves, as this is the only effective way to truly stop the virus from spreading.
At-risk groups include:
Sexually active individuals who are at even a slight level of risk of HIV infection are encouraged to get tested at least annually or every 6 months. At-risk individuals, on the other hand, are strongly advised to test themselves every 3 months.
As noted, routine testing is essential for all at-risk groups and individuals who suspect they’ve been exposed to HIV. Testing prevents further infection; it does not prevent you from becoming infected.
Here are some tips to reduce your risk of infection:
Reduce your risk of developing AIDS or transmitting the virus to another person by performing regular preventative testing for HIV. Having an HIV home test handy makes this process quick and easy , and this added convenience can mean the difference between early and late diagnosis.
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