If you are a young gay male, I want you to be aware of how important it is for you to get your annual test. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that one in five people in Maryland who are living with HIV don’t know it yet because they have not taken an HIV test. Since current statistics tell us that most new infections in Maryland are now occurring among young gay men, that means that you may be one of the almost 6,000 people in Maryland who are living with HIV and don’t know it.
Undiagnosed HIV accounts for the transmission of most new cases of HIV. If a person doesn’t know they are infected with HIV, they are much less likely to protect partners during sexual activity. On the other hand, those who know their status and are successfully treating their HIV to undetectable levels have been shown to not transmit the infection at all even when having unprotected sex (not that you ever should have unprotected sex!).
The only way to know if you have HIV is to get an HIV test. In 2016, HIV infection no longer has to lead to sickness and death. But all too often it does because people don’t recognize their risks for contracting HIV and don’t seek routine HIV testing. Testing routinely, at least once every year, is the key to early diagnosis and treatment of HIV.
Testing is also a great chance to ask the counselor about PrEP (Pre Exposure Prophylaxis) and whether PrEP may be right for you. PrEP is a medication that prevents HIV infection when taken once daily. It is recommended for people who are at higher risks of contracting HIV due to their sexual practices or their personal circumstances – like being in a long-term relationship with someone who has HIV.
In 2006 the CDC recommended that all people between the ages of 14 and 64 have at least one HIV test. At that time, they were calling on physicians to make sure that all people got screened. Ten years later, that is still not happening, physicians are still not treating HIV like they would other health risks. That means we have to take it upon ourselves to make sure that we get the screening.
To get an HIV test, you could ask your primary care provider to order one for you. Since 2012, insurance plans must pay for routine HIV screening. And if you don’t have health insurance or don’t want to go through a primary care provider, you can still go to your local health department to get a free HIV test. For Frederick County: Health.frederickcountymd.gov/256/HIV-AIDS-Services For Washington County: Dhmh.maryland.gov/washhealth/Pages/communicable-disease.aspx.
Debbie Anne is a Public Health Nurse with Frederick County Health Department in Frederick, Maryland. In 2014 was awarded a Governor’s Citation for her work with Marylanders living with HIV/AIDS.