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Ahead of National HIV Testing Day, Learn How to Protect Yourself From This Deadly Disease

June 15, 2022

The AIDS epidemic might have peaked in 2004, but since the human immunodeficiency (HIV) virus still poses a threat, anyone having unprotected sex should be regularly tested for infection.

June 27 was designated National HIV Testing Day as a way to promote the importance of regular screening for the virus that, if left untreated, can damage the immune system, cause AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) and, potentially, result in death.

“Increased testing, safe sex practices and the availability of effective medication as well as medications that can prevent infection when taken before unprotected sex have all contributed to a lowering of the rate of HIV and AIDs in this country and globally,” said Patrick Cahill, MD, medical director of the Community Care Center at Hartford Hospital.

Currently, about 1.2 million Americans live with AIDS. However, Dr. Cahill said testing after unprotected sex can uncover the presence of HIV at a time when it’s highly treatable and will not progress to AIDS.

“The theme for this year is ‘HIV testing is self-care’ and it’s so true. We’ve been pressed in the last few years to take more control of our own health and this is an important way people can do that,” he said. “HIV testing is a critical tool in the fight against AIDS.”

A blood test is required to look for the antibodies the body develops in response to infection from the HIV virus. The best time to test is 23 to 90 days after a potential exposure, or unsafe sexual contact, Dr. Cahill said. However, just like people can get false negative test results from a COVID-19 test, testing too early after exposure might give one a negative HIV result.

“We suggest that people take a second test three months later to be sure of the results,” he said. “Up to 95 percent of people will have antibodies after six weeks, and 99 percent after three months.”

There are also rapid HIV tests which show results in 15 to 60 minutes.

If the virus is detected, individuals can start on antiviral treatments. These are not a cure – there is, in fact, no cure for HIV – but they will slow progression of the virus and its advancement to AIDS.

To stay healthy, Dr. Cahill recommended using protection every time you have sex and never sharing or reusing needles. HIV is spread through bodily fluids like blood and semen.

Educating the public is part of the mission at the Community Care Center, and providers like Dr. Cahill can prescribe pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) to patients considered at higher risk of exposure to and acquisition of HIV. This group includes:

PrEP are medications taken orally once a day or by injection every four to eight weeks.

For more information or an appointment at the Community Care Center, call 860.972.9300.

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