While there is no cure for HIV, today there is treatment that allows people with HIV to live symptom free. Without treatment, though, the immune system can become weak putting you at risk for subsequent life-threatening diseases. If untreated, HIV reaches the most serious stage of infection—AIDS.
- Gay and bisexual men make up two percent of the US population yet represent 69% of all HIV diagnoses.
- 39% of those newly diagnosed are ages 25-34.
- Transgender women are 49 times more likely to be living with HIV than the rest of the population.
It’s vital to get tested every three months if you’re a sexually active adult with multiple partners, you inject drugs, or you have had a recent STI infection.
Currently, there are three types of HIV tests:
- Rapid HIV test: This is a fingerstick blood test that gives results in less than a minute. Sometimes, it’s called antibody tests because it looks for antibodies in your blood.
- Combination HIV test: This is a blood test that gives results in less than a week. It determines the presence of both HIV antibodies and antigens.
- Nucleic acid test (NAT): This is a blood test that gives results in less than a week. Sometimes, it’s called a viral load test. This test is used to confirm an HIV infection. It is not routinely used unless an individual has a positive rapid HIV test or positive combination HIV test.
If you test positive for HIV, you have treatment options. According to the Mayo Clinic, everyone diagnosed with HIV should be started on antiretroviral therapy (ART), regardless of their stage of infection or complications.
Typically, ART is a combination of three or more medications from several different drug classes. Typically, two drugs from one class plus a third drug from a second class are used. This course of treatment provides the highest chance of lowering the HIV viral load in the body. There are many ART options that can combine three HIV medications into one pill, taken once daily.
Remaining on effective ART with an undetectable HIV viral load in the blood is the best way for you to stay healthy. For ART to be effective, it’s important that you take the medications as prescribed, without missing or skipping any doses. Staying on ART with an undetectable viral load helps:
- Keep your immune system strong
- Reduce your chances of getting an infection
- Reduce your chances of developing treatment-resistant HIV
- Reduce your chances of transmitting HIV to other people
Having regular follow-up appointments with your doctor to monitor your health and response to treatment is also important. Let your doctor know right away if you’re having problems with HIV therapy so that you can work together to find ways to address those challenges.