There are more than 1 million people in the US with HIV but unfortunately, even now, many of them don’t know it. The only way to know if you’re HIV positive is to get tested. HIV testing and your options for preventing HIV as well as treating HIV are better than ever. Most tests can be performed with a finger prick, mouth swab or blood test and results can be processed in as fast as 20 minutes with confirmatory testing in a few days. You can work with your health care provider to find the right test for you.
I’m going to assume that, if you are sexually active, you’re aware that condoms are the simplest way to keep yourself safe from HIV infection. When used every time, condoms are highly effective in preventing HIV as well as other STI’s. However, in terms of HIV infection, medical science has come a long way at providing further measures to help protect you. Other options include Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), PEP (Post exposure Prophylaxis) or Treatment as Prevention (TAP).
Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is a pill to prevent HIV. Studies have shown that PrEP is highly effective at preventing HIV if taken consistently for people of all genders. PrEP, “the other blue pill” comes in several forms and is a medication that can help protect you- Talk to your medical provider today to find out which one could be right for you!
PEP Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) means taking medication after potentially being exposed to HIV, to prevent getting it. PEP is for emergency situations and must be started within 72 hours after possible exposure to HIV. If you think you’ve been exposed to HIV, talk to your health care provider or emergency room provider ASAP.
HIV Treatment as Prevention, also often referred to as Undetectable = Untransmittable, is the concept that if someone living with HIV has an undetectable virus level in their blood, they cannot pass along the virus. If you or your partner(s) are living with HIV, encourage them to get and keep an undetectable viral load by getting and staying in care. Being undetectable is the best thing for their overall health, and it means there is no risk of transmitting HIV to you through sex. Being undetectable, does not, prevent other sexually transmitted infections or diseases, so make sure you and your partner(s) are staying up to date on their STI testing.
Do you know your HIV status? Have up-front conversations about the importance of knowing your status so you can make the best decision to keep you and your partner healthy.
- Get tested regularly! The only way to know if you have HIV is to get tested, so make testing a part of your regular health care routine. Knowing your status empowers you to make the best decisions for your health.
- Yes, everyone aged 13-64 should get tested at least once. Some groups at ongoing risk for getting HIV should be tested more often; at least once per year.
- Communication is important, so be open and honest. Talk to your partner and your primary care provider about getting tested and figure out which prevention options are best for you.
Visit www.cdc.gov/doingit to find a testing location near you. You can also buy an at-home testing kit online or at most pharmacies.
Need Affordable Health Coverage?
Is lack of insurance keeping you from getting tested? If you need or have lost health care coverage or had a qualifying life like losing your job or getting divorced, you can call our office and speak to one of our health insurance navigators who can help you find a plan that works for you. President Biden recently opened a special enrollment period to help anyone who has lost or needs health benefits to be able to apply for insurance through the Affordable Care Act. Call (360) 788-2669 or go online at bit.ly/3bBx8qs to sign up for health insurance.
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Content source: Mental Health America, mhanational.org
Kate Wojnicki, ARNP, Unity Care NW
I’m a Family Nurse Practitioner and HIV Specialist at Unity Care NW. I hold a Bachelor of Science from the University of Washington and a Master of Science in Nursing/ Nurse Practitioner degree from Seattle Pacific University. After spending 6 years in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at UW and volunteering in Uganda, I completed a Community Health Residency in Tacoma with a focus on caring for persons living with HIV. I joined Unity Care NW in 2014 as an opportunity to serve the community where I spent much of my childhood. I earned my HIV credential through the American Academy of HIV Medicine in 2016.