While AIDS continues to decimate sub-Saharan Africa, it has also started to make a comeback in the U.S. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that between 180,000 and 280,000 people in the U.S. are currently unaware they are living with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
For this reason, the CDC and the National Association of People with AIDS (NAPWA) are hosting National HIV Testing Day on Wednesday, June 27. Both organizations encourage at-risk individuals to get tested and counseled.
If you think you are not at risk for HIV and AIDS, think again. Homosexual men are not the only people at risk for the disease.
While men who have sex with men make up more than two-thirds of all men infected with HIV, African Americans account for almost half of all people getting HIV and AIDS in the U.S., even though they only account for about 13 percent of the population.
Heterosexual women are at an increased risk as well. The CDC estimates 80 percent of women infected with HIV contracted it through heterosexual contact.
Women only accounted for 14 percent of the adults living with AIDS in the U.S. in 1992, but by the end of 2005 that figure jumped to 23 percent. Black and Hispanic women are particularly at risk, accounting for 82 percent of the AIDS diagnoses for women in 2005 although they represent only 24 percent of the population.
And this is not just a health concern for the younger generations. According to the CDC, about 19 percent of people with HIV and AIDS in the U.S. are age 50 and older.
The CDC also recommends testing for any woman who is pregnant or planning to become pregnant.
The risk factors for the disease have not changed. Anyone who has ever been diagnosed with a sexually transmitted disease, has unprotected sex, or has used intravenous drugs is at increased risk for infection. Anyone who has sex with anyone who has engaged in any of these behaviors is also at an increased risk.
Types of Tests
The most popular way to get tested is taking an antibody test that measures the antibodies the body makes against HIV. It takes two to eight weeks for the body to develop those antibodies after being infected, so repeat testing is necessary for many people.
These tests are usually conducted by taking a blood sample, although oral fluid and urine can also be used. There are also rapid tests, which take only 20 minutes, but like other tests, a follow-up test must be conducted if the initial test is found to be positive.
Lastly, there are home testing kits. There are many advertised on the Internet, but only Home Access HIV-1 has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. But beware, the name is a misnomer. The kit includes test materials to take a blood sample, which then has to be mailed off for testing.
On June 27, many rapid tests and regular blood tests will be available free of charge at locations across the country. National HIV Testing Day was started more than a decade ago by NAPWA. More than 30,000 organizations join together every year on June 27 to raise awareness about early diagnosis and counseling.
This article was reviewed by Dr. Manny Alvarez.