REALLY: GET TESTED
October 11, 2016 • By Richard Wolitski, Ph.D., Acting Director, Office of HIV/AIDS and Infectious Disease Policy, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Today is the 28th annual National Coming Out Day—a time to celebrate the LGBTQ community. Being out can have important benefits for people’s physical and emotional health. For example, if your healthcare provider knows you are gay, bisexual, lesbian, transgender, queer, or questioning, he or she may be able to provide you with health care that better matches your needs and experiences as an LGBTQ person.
In honor of this observance, we are re-posting a National HIV Testing Day blog post by Dr. Richard Wolitski, Acting Director of the Office of HIV/AIDS and Infectious Disease Policy. Dr. Wolitski’s personal story demonstrates how being “out” can empower people to get tested, get treatment, prevent new infections, and battle HIV-related stigma.
REALLY: Get Tested
I’ve seen firsthand the impact that HIV testing can have on people’s lives. My first involvement in HIV was as a volunteer HIV pretest and posttest counselor in Long Beach, California, while I was in my 20s. I talked to people who came in to get tested because they were anxious and afraid they had been infected recently. I talked with others who used regular HIV testing as part of their strategy for staying safe. I’ve seen couples who come in to get tested together, people who came in with a friend, and many others who came in on their own.
Today, as we observe National HIV Testing Day, it’s an opportunity to recognize the important role that testing in health care and community-based settings plays in the lives of so many Americans. HIV testing is a critical service and is a key event in the lives of millions of Americans who are tested each year.
I know that I wouldn’t be alive today if I had not been tested and found out that I was positive early in the course of my infection. I got tested as part of a physical and wasn’t really expecting that the result would be positive. When my doctor called me at home on December 1, 1994 — World AIDS Day — I knew right away why she was calling. She had taken care of my partner John who had died just a few months prior, and I could hear the pain and sadness in her voice. When she told me that the test result was positive, my first reaction was to make sure that she knew I was OK and to get the call over with as soon as possible. I went into her office the next day to get labs drawn and started HIV treatment as soon as the results came back. I’ve been taking HIV medication pretty much every day since then.
Getting that positive test result was stressful and changed my life forever. But I am very glad that I did it and that I learned my status soon after I got HIV. It made it possible for me to do what I needed to stay healthy and to make sure that nobody got HIV from me. It has been more than 20 years since I got that positive test result. My viral load has been suppressed (undetectable or less than 200 copies) since 1996, and I am in better health than a lot of other guys in their early 50s.
Getting tested is not something that you should think about just on National HIV Testing Day, but it’s an important opportunity to think about whether it’s time for you to get tested.
The CDC recommends that everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 get tested for HIV at least once as part of routine health care. People whose behavior puts them at risk for HIV should be tested at least once a year.
Take control of your health by knowing your status. Please talk to your healthcare provider about an HIV test, or use the AIDS.gov HIV Testing & Care Services Locator to find an HIV test site near you. HIV tests are available in many places, including community health centers, hospitals, Title X Family Planning Clinics, medical clinics, substance abuse treatment programs, and even some pharmacies, as well as at many community-based organizations, AIDS services organizations, and mobile testing vans.
The number of people living with HIV continues to grow—and the virus is still causing too many deaths that could have been prevented if people had gotten tested and started treatment. Knowing your status is an important part of taking care of your own health, your partners, and your community. I’ve had some amazing personal and professional experiences over the past 20 years that I would not have had if I had not gotten tested and started treatment—going back to school and getting my PhD, marrying my husband, being there to take care of my parents, and traveling around the world.
If you are positive, it’s better to know and take action. If you’re negative, knowing can relieve the stress and anxiety of not knowing and reinforce what can do to stay negative. It’s well worth getting tested. Really.