Guest Author - Barbara Sharpe
There are HIV tests available that you can do at home. The company sends you a kit, you give a bit of blood, mail it in and a week later you can call a toll-free number to hear your results. Seems like a good idea doesnít it? You can do it in the privacy of your own home and you never have to worry about someone else knowing. I think it isnít a good idea.
HIV is scary to a lot of people. There is quite a lot of information- and misinformation Ė on the news, in the media, on the internet and itís hard to know whatís accurate and what you can trust. There are people who think that if you find out today that you have HIV, then you are going to die and die soon. That was often true in the early stages of the epidemic, when doctors didnít have any idea what it was or what caused it, let alone how to treat it. Now, itís not. People can and do live for a long time with HIV, some for more than twenty years.
Part of being tested for HIV is education. The Centers for Disease Control has standards for what sort of information is given at an HIV test. Itís informal and you can ask whatever questions you have. You should ask, in fact. The tester is not likely to be shocked by anything you say. After working in the field for a while, testers hear just about everything at some point. The tester can make sure you know all the ways a person can get HIV, can clear up any misconceptions you have and help you make a plan for how to reduce your risk in the future.
The tests you can buy are about $45 and most HIV/AIDS organizations test people at no charge. Some ask for a donation, some family planning clinics may charge a small fee but you should be able to find a place that does free testing. Health Departments are also another good source for free tests in many locations.
The tests are generally sent to an outside lab and in about a week you can come in and get your results. Most, if not all, organizations that do HIV testing will not give test results out over the phone. They do that for the same reason that I think itís not a good idea to do at home HIV tests: if you test positive, someone should be there to help you deal with that.
A person who has just found out that they have HIV is likely to have a lot of questions and a lot of feelings. The HIV counselors are able to help with that. In some agencies, there are case managers who can then help the client with practical matters such as finding an HIV specialist and what to do about getting medications if they arenít insured. On the day the person finds out that they have tested positive, though, having someone to talk it through with is very important.
There are people who think they can handle it and maybe they can. I think that having someone who is neutral and can give you solid, fact-based information while helping you sort through your fears and concerns is invaluable.
For the same reasons, I think itís not a good idea to get tested at health fairs and other venues where they use the quick test methods and you get your results in about half an hour. That is no place to find out you have a chronic illness, especially if you are away from home.
If youíre sexually active, getting tested is important. All of the education information and support that a trained HIV counselor can give you is also important. If you donít know where to get tested, you can begin with your local health department or Planned Parenthood. You can look in the phone book under ďHIVĒ or ďAIDSĒ or you can google HIV test and your town to see what options there are. Just make sure you can test anonymously and youíll have the same privacy as the test youíd buy.