HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus, a virus that attacks the immune system, or to be more specific – the immune cells called CD4 cells. The CD4 cells are a type of T cells, white blood cells that are responsible for fighting off infections; however, since they are now affected by HIV, they are no longer able to protect our body from infections and diseases.
Unfortunately, the number of people that are living with HIV keeps increasing. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), there are about 1.1 million people in the United States alone who are living with HIV, with 15% of them not being aware of the presence of this virus in their bodies.
Why is testing for HIV important?
It is the people that are living unaware of their existing HIV infection that is contributing to the continuous increase in new HIV cases. Getting tested in time for HIV, as well as for any other sexually transmitted disease (STD), is of vital importance.
By getting tested, you can start your antiretroviral therapy (ART) as soon as possible, which will surely help you protect your health and shield you from any additional complications that are to come. Testing helps to reduce the risk of HIV-related diseases and the risk of transmitting HIV to any future partners with whom you may engage in any intimate relationship.
HIV testing should be done at least once in a lifetime as well as regularly among high-risk individuals. It is a common practice for pregnant women to get tested for HIV and gonorrhea at their first visit at the doctor’s office since these two STIs can be easily transmitted to the baby in the womb and cause dangerous complications.
The different tests that help diagnose HIV
While at your doctor’s office, the doctor will perform a physical exam and question you about your medical history. Next, a couple of tests can be made to help detect an existing HIV infection.
- ELSA test – ELSA, short from enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, can detect the presence of HIV infection. In the case of a positive ELSA test, an additional Western blot test is usually ordered. If the ELSA test is negative, but you or your doctor suspects an existing HIV infection, the test can be done after one to three months.
- Western blot test – Westen blot test is a very sensitive test used to confirm a positive ELSA test.
- Viral Load test – The Viral Load test is used to measure the exact levels of HIV in the blood. It is useful in terms of detecting an early HIV infection as well as monitoring the progress of a diagnosed HIV infection.
- Saliva test – A positive saliva test needs to be later confirmed by performing a blood test.
- Home test – Patients can also use home tests that usually come in the form of a saliva test or a blood test which the patients do themselves at home, following the carefully provided instructions.
HIV is a potentially life-threatening infection that can bring many uncomfortable complications along with it. Getting tested is the key factor for discovering and then treating an existing HIV infection, and with that, improving your chances for a better and healthier life despite the presence of this difficult infection.