Why EVERY Person Should Be Tested for HIV When They Visit the Doctor

 

Hi, my name is Dr. Becky Kuhn. I’m a physician who specializes in HIV/AIDS. Welcome to “Why EVERY Person Should Be Tested for HIV When They Visit the Doctor.”

 

Did you know that you should be tested for HIV when you visit the doctor’s office? That may seem hard to believe, but it’s true. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommended in September 2006 that all patients age 13-64 years be tested for HIV when they visit the doctor’s office.

 

Why? As of the end of 2003, it was estimated that one in four HIV positive individuals in the United States do not know they have been infected with HIV. As a result, they will not get the medical care that could improve their health and prolong or save their life. They also may transmit the virus to others without realizing it and fail to take protective measures like safer sex practices that could prevent HIV transmission.

 

What does this have to do with you? You may feel perfectly healthy and also feel you are at little risk for HIV. That may be true. But there are many individuals who had felt well and felt they were not at risk for contracting HIV and ended up testing positive during a routine HIV screening, for example during a pregnancy. Historically, HIV has been associated in many people’s minds with gay men and injection drug users. Increasingly, new HIV infections are being found among other populations. It’s estimated that there are about 40,000 new HIV infections each year in the U.S., and this number hasn’t changed since 1998.[1] Women now account for more than one quarter of all new HIV/AIDS diagnoses,[2] and HIV infection is the leading cause of death for African American women between ages 25 and 34.[3] 80% of women, and 15% of men who were diagnosed with HIV/AIDS during 2005 were infected through heterosexual sex.[4] So even if you don’t think of yourself as a member of a high risk group, it’s worth getting tested.

 

By getting tested for HIV, you’re doing your part to help reduce its spread. Between 40 and 90 percent of individuals who are newly infected with HIV will initially experience signs and symptoms of what is called primary HIV infection.[5] These signs and symptoms include fever, malaise (or tiredness), rash, swollen lymph nodes and other symptoms similar to common viral infections.[6] Another video on this site explains the signs and symptoms of primary HIV infection in detail.

 

Many individuals who experience these symptoms will go to the doctor. Doctors will usually not recognize these as symptoms of HIV infection since they are similar to symptoms of more common illnesses such as the cold or flu. By asking your doctor to test you for HIV, you will make sure that you get the care you need if you have indeed contracted it. Identifying new HIV infections early is also important for preventing the spread of HIV because individuals are most likely to transmit HIV to their sexual and needle sharing partners right after they are first infected. So by testing everyone who goes to the doctor for HIV regardless of the reason, we will discover more HIV infections sooner. If all infected individuals could learn their HIV status and take steps to avoid infecting others, new sexual transmission of HIV infections could be reduced by more than 30%.

 

Are you required to get tested for HIV when you visit the doctor? No. If you don’t wish to be tested, you can say so and your doctor will not test you. Testing is usually done with a simple oral swab that’s quick and painless or a blood test.

 

So when your doctor says they’re going to test you for HIV, let them. And if they don’t, ask to be tested anyway. When it comes to HIV, what you don’t know can kill you and those you love. Protect yourself and those around you. Get tested for HIV when you visit the doctor. This is Dr. Becky Kuhn.

 

This script was reviewed for accuracy and approved by Becky Kuhn, M.D. on June 22, 2007.

 

References:

 

Bernard Branson, et al. "Revised Recommendations for HIV Testing of Adults, Adolescents, and Pregnant Women in Health-Care Settings." MMWR Recommendations and Reports, 22 Sept 06, 55(RR14); 1-17. http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/rr5514a1.htm

 

Center for AIDS. “Primary HIV Infection.” April 2004. http://www.thebody.com/content/art16795.html

 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “CDC Fact Sheet: A Glance at the HIV/AIDS Epidemic.” January 2007. http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/resources/factsheets/At-A-Glance.htm

 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “CDC Fact Sheet: HIV/AIDS among Women.” March 2007. http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/topics/women/resources/factsheets/women.htm



[1] Bernard Branson, "Revised Recommendations for HIV Testing of Adults, Adolescents, and Pregnant Women in Health-Care Settings." MMWR Recommendations and Reports, 22 Sept 06, 55(RR14); 1-17.

[2] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “CDC Fact Sheet: HIV/AIDS among Women,” June 2007.

[3] Branson, 2006.

[4] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “A Glance at the HIV/AIDS Epidemic,” January 2007.

[5] Branson, 2006.

[6] Center for AIDS, “Primary HIV Infection,” April 2004.