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In the United States, about 1 in 5 people who are infected with HIV don't know know that they carry the virus. Worldwide, the World Health Organization estimates that 2 in 5 people who are HIV-positive don't know they carry the virus.
These undiagnosed infectees transmit the virus to another 50,000 people annually.
Who Should Get Tested for HIV?
Some clinics and some hospitals test every patient for HIV every time they come in for a blood draw or they are admitted for a hospital stay. Other doctors, clinics, and hospitals in the United States follow CDC guidelines:
- Anyone who uses injectible street drugs should be tested for HIV, along with all of their sex partners.
- Anyone who exchanges sex for money or drugs should be tested for HIV.
- Anyone who has sex with someone who is diagnosed with HIV, even if they have protected sex, should be regularly tested for HIV.
- Anyone who has had multiple (3 or more) sex partners since their last test should be tested for HIV.
- People who have unprotected receptive anal intercourse, which carries a 800% higher risk of infection, should be tested for the disease.
- Anyone who has had more than one sexual partner since their last HIV test should be tested, and everyone should have an HIV test after having sex with a new partner, even if both have tested negative in the past.
A chlamydia infection increases the risk of HIV transmission by 300%, a gonorrhea infection increases the risk of HIV infection by 800%, and a herpes infection increases the risk of transmission by 2500%. And, of course, anyone who displays symptoms of recent HIV infection is tested. Early symptoms of HIV infection include:
- Fever, chills, night sweats, loss of appetite, and sudden, unplanned weight loss.
- Swollen lymph nodes, in the neck and groin.
- Sore throat, with or without ulcers or yeast infection.
- Nausea, vomiting, and/or diarrhea.
- Stiff neck.
- Asymmetrical muscle pain, pain on one side of the body but not both.
- Sudden personality changes.
Some, most, or all of these symptoms may occur, but they usually abate in a week or less. Because the early symptoms of HIV overlap with the symptoms of many other diseases, it is not possible to diagnose HIV infection on the basis of symptoms alone.
The Difference Between Early Testing and Early Treatment
Getting tested for HIV used to be an ordeal. People would have a questionable liaison, wait and worry for weeks, make an appointment with their doctors, get critical looks and unpleasant questions, have blood drawn, and wait for 2 to 3 weeks for the results. But if the infection had happened only 2 or 3 months earlier, the results would be negative. The virus would be multiplying rapidly and the infected individual would be especially likely to transmit it, but the symptoms would go away and it might be years before the HIV test was run again.
However, the problem is that tests cannot identify the specific type of HIV, so doctors can choose the right treatments, until the immune system has created antibodies to the virus, or at least that was the case until recently.