Over 90 Percent of What Planned Parenthood Does, Part 14: Rapid HIV Testing

HIVtestingdayWelcome to the latest installment of “Over 90 Percent of What Planned Parenthood Does,” a series on Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona’s blog that highlights Planned Parenthood’s diverse array of services — the ones Jon Kyl never knew about.

It’s important to be tested for HIV, the sexually transmitted virus that causes AIDS. For some people, periodic HIV testing is part of their regular health care, while others might be experiencing a scare after a high-risk encounter (for example, having unprotected vaginal or anal intercourse or sharing IV equipment with someone whose HIV status you don’t know). No matter what boat you’re in, waiting a week or more to get your results from a standard HIV test might be nerve-wracking. If that sounds like you, then a rapid HIV test — which can give you results in just 40 minutes or less — might be just what the doctor ordered.


Today is National HIV Testing Day, and HIV testing has never been easier!


Here’s a quick rundown on rapid HIV testing: A negative result on a rapid HIV test is just as accurate as a negative result from a standard test — you just don’t have to wait as long to get it. However, positive results are considered “preliminary” and another blood sample must be sent to a lab for confirmation. If that result comes back negative, you will probably be asked to come back for retesting to verify that negative result.

The rapid test, just like the standard test, is an antibody test, which means it detects the presence of antibodies in your bloodstream. Antibodies are molecules produced by your immune system, and are specially designed to attach to viruses and other invaders. Each type of antibody is shaped in such a way that they can interlock with just one type of pathogen; some antibodies might specialize in attaching to a certain strain of a cold virus while others might be shaped especially for attachment to the surface of an E. coli bacterium. So, if you’re infected with HIV, your immune system will produce antibodies that are uniquely shaped to target HIV. An HIV antibody test can sort through the many types of antibodies in your bloodstream and identify only the antibodies that are shaped specifically for targeting HIV.

Because the immune system takes a long time to produce these custom-made antibodies, it could take around three months for an HIV infection to be detected. These three months are called the “window period,” and during this time it is possible to test negative for HIV despite being infected with it and able to transmit it to others. If you’re receiving HIV testing after engaging in high-risk activities, it’s important to keep this window period in mind. (Note: Some sources describe the window period as being between three and six months while others say it’s between two weeks and six months.)

Here are a few more things to keep in mind about HIV testing:

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends HIV screening for anyone between the ages of 13 and 64, purely as part of their routine health care. Additionally, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends HIV testing in adolescents and adults ages 15 to 64.
  • Planned Parenthood especially encourages testing for anyone who has had unprotected sex or shared syringes with an HIV-positive person, or has otherwise possibly been exposed to HIV.
  • The state of Arizona allows anonymous HIV testing, meaning that an ID number will be used instead of your name. If you are interested in anonymous testing, ask if that is an option when you make an appointment or walk in to a testing center.
  • Arizona also allows minors to consent to STD-screening services without parental involvement, and physicians are not allowed to inform parents. Policies in other states may vary, and laws can change over time, so if you’re not sure, ask.
  • Under the Affordable Care Act, insurance might cover your HIV testing as a preventive health care service.

In addition to HIV testing, the sensitive, trained staff at Planned Parenthood Arizona can offer you counseling about what to expect from the test, how to deal with your diagnosis, and how to live a healthy life regardless of your HIV status. Staff can also provide referrals to professionals who specialize in counseling, as well as to places that can help you be properly treated if your result is positive.

Getting tested for HIV might be scary, but detecting the virus as soon as possible can only benefit you. Starting treatment soon after an HIV infection is associated with longer lifespans and a 96 percent reduced chance of transmitting the virus to your partners. It’s also possible that, if you are lucky enough to have some special genes, early treatment will get the virus well enough controlled to stop treatment later.

Planned Parenthood’s website has a tool called The Check that can help you determine if you should be screened for HIV. It’s also a good idea to get screened for HIV (and other sexually transmitted diseases) with your partner before initiating sexual activity — this can help you address difficult topics early in your relationship, and is a wonderful way to protect you and your partner’s health.

Today is National HIV Testing Day, so if you’ve been putting it off, now’s the time! HIV tests, including rapid testing, are available from Planned Parenthood health centers. You can also use this tool to locate other HIV testing locations near you. More information on HIV testing is available at Planned Parenthood’s website.

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  1. Pingback: World AIDS Day: The Affordable Care Act Can Help in Creating the Healthiest Generation Ever | Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona | Blog

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