In the Spotlight
Get Checked: Say Yes to the HIV Test
Contributed by Ronald O. Valdiserri, MD, MPH, Public Health Strategic Health Care Group
Medical science has made great advances in fighting HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus). Many effective treatments are available that let people with HIV lead long and healthy lives. However, they have to know they have the virus before they can get these new, improved treatments.
Many people think there is no way they could have HIV. The only way to know is to take the HIV test. You could have HIV and still feel healthy. This virus can cause serious damage to your body's immune system. Your immune system is your defense against infections and cancer. Without treatment, a damaged immune system will result in AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome), illness and death. People who find out they have HIV after they have gotten sick already have serious immune system damage. This is why early testing for HIV is so important.
In the past, health care providers tested for HIV only when:
- A patient had symptoms that could be from a damaged immune system
- Their medical history suggested they may have been exposed to the virus
Now health care providers recommend voluntary HIV testing to all patients who receive medical care.
Testing should be offered even if a patient does not have an obvious risk factor.
Routine HIV Testing
VA's goal is to make HIV testing more "routine," like testing for cholesterol or diabetes. Routine testing and early treatment can give people with HIV life-saving care before they become sick. Hundreds of thousands of Americans are infected and are not aware of it! We do not know how many Veterans have HIV and do not know it. A 2009 survey found that less than one out of every ten Veterans receiving care from the VA had ever been tested for HIV. And only one in every forty were tested for HIV in 2009.
Say Yes to the HIV Test
Take time to check your own HIV status. Talk to your health care provider about getting an HIV test if you have not had one. Remember, the results of the test are confidential and will not affect your VA benefits. In 2009, VA asked Veterans who use My HealtheVet if their VA health care provider had offered them an HIV test in the last year. Only 9% said they had been offered a test for HIV in the last 12 months. Compare this to over 80% who had been offered a cholesterol test. Nearly three-quarters of the Veterans answering the survey said that they would "very likely" accept an HIV test if their provider offered it. If your health care provider does not bring up HIV testing, you should. Remember, it does not hurt to be sure. Finding out about HIV and being treated early can keep you healthy. It can even save your life!
The VA provides world-class care for Veterans who are diagnosed with HIV. For more information about HIV testing, treatment and prevention, visit HIV/AIDS: For Patients and the Public.
- D'cisions: Drugs + HIV (National Institute on Drug Abuse)
- Need to Know: The Importance of HIV Testing (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
- Questions to ask your provider... (Department of Veterans Affairs HIV/AIDS: For Patients and the Public)
Updated/Reviewed: January 12, 2016