HIV testing: Why not now?

Posted on 21 Jun 2010 at 2:50pm

It’s easy to come up with plenty of reasons not to get tested now for HIV. But none of those reasons can outweigh the reasons you should get tested as soon as possible

Bret Camp Special Contributor

Why wouldn’t you get an HIV test if one was offered to you, free of charge, with results in under half-an-hour? Is there anything stopping you? Not enough free time? Don’t think you have any risk? Never had an HIV test?

Is it the fear of receiving a positive result? Or, is it the fear of knowing, positive or negative, you may have to face your own actions since your last test?

Consider these numbers from the Texas Department of State Health Services from 2008, the last year for which data was available: 63,019 people in Texas were living with HIV/AIDS.

That’s one in 387 people.

The rate of African-Americans living with HIV/AIDS is more than five times that of Hispanics living with HIV/AIDS and four times that of Caucasians.

And 54 percent of the new HIV/AIDS cases were among men who have sex with men, while just over one in five were through heterosexual contact. Another 15 percent were through the use of injection drugs.

If you combine the numbers for Dallas, Tarrant, and Denton counties, three out of 10 of the people living with HIV/AIDS in Texas call North Texas home.

Thanks to technology and social media, it has become easier than ever to meet people for friendships, relationships or casual sex. You can even cruise from your cell phone or mobile device wherever you are.

Self-esteem and self-respect issues can sometimes play a role, leading you to trust before you think.

If you wouldn’t trust your sexual partner with your ATM card, because you may not know them that well, shouldn’t you think twice before you automatically trust their negative status or last testing date results? The person who thinks they are negative, but is positive, is at the height of being infectious to others.

Trust is a two-way street. If you feel you’re doing more of the trusting and less of the second-thinking, slow things down and protect yourself. You have the right to say no.

It’s been nearly 30 years since health professionals meeting in Dallas identified a mysterious disease they first labeled GRID (Gay Related Immune Deficiency), and later, more appropriately HIV/AIDS.

There is still no cure for HIV. But a positive test result doesn’t mean that someone who is infected will become sick and die.

Early detection and medical care remains the key to long-term survival. New drugs are constantly being developed to fight the HIV virus in the body, and in turn, help people tremain healthy.

However, that doesn’t mean you should “risk it anyway” because you’re afraid to make it an issue with your sexual partner. You should never let someone pressure you into risking your health and your future.

Who should get an HIV test? If you’re sexually active and not in a long-term, mutually monogamous relationship (keywords: mutually monogamous), or if you can answer “yes” to any of these questions, you should get regular HIV testing:

• Have you had unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex, multiple partners or anonymous partners?

• Have you exchanged sex for drugs or money?

• Have you injected drugs or steroids or shared equipment (such as needles, syringes, works) with others?

• Have you been diagnosed with or treated for hepatitis, tuberculosis or a sexually transmitted disease like gonorrhea or syphilis?

• Have you had unprotected sex with someone who could answer yes to any of the above questions?

By 2012, it’s estimated there will be more than 25,200 people living with HIV/AIDS in Dallas County alone, up from more than 14,700 in 2007.

You don’t need an appointment to get tested. Just show up at Nelson-Tebedo Clinic Monday through Friday, June 21-25. You can also get a free syphilis test at the same time.

If those days aren’t convenient, we’re holding a special National HIV/AIDS Testing Day screening the afternoon of Sunday, June 27 at JR.’s (thank you, Caven Enterprises!).

Respecting yourself and protecting yourself starts with facing your fears and understanding why you’re afraid of taking that free HIV test. Overcoming that fear and uncertainty is your first step toward taking control of your sexual health, and your future.

Bret Camp is associate executive director of health and medical services for Resource Center Dallas. Contact him at bcamp@rcdallas.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 18, 2010.

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