Q: I'm 24 years old and I have a regular boyfriend. I went to my doctor recently for a sore throat and she recommended that I get an HIV test. I'm not at high risk, so why do I need to get tested?
A: Your doctor's suggestion is very appropriate, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC’s) new recommendation is that HIV screening be a routine part of medical care for all people between the ages of 13 and 64. You can opt out of being tested by signing a statement that you don’t want to be tested. But please understand you are not being singled out by your doctor, nor is the test done because of suspicion of any previous “inappropriate” behavior by you or your partner(s).
One quarter of a million individuals in the U.S. are thought to be infected with HIV and are unaware of their HIV positive status. Many of these are individuals who are considered low risk. The problem is particularly worrisome among teenagers — more than 50 percent of those infected with HIV don’t know it and this number rises to 80 percent of HIV infected young gay men. Unfortunately, 40 percent of individuals who eventually get diagnosed with HIV have probably been infected for 10 years. By that time it may be too late to get the treatments that deliver maximum benefits. Your doctor is not targeting you individually. Rather, she is following the recommendation of the most important national health infectious disease control center in the U.S. With our present ability to care for those who are infected, we can make what was once a deadly disease a chronic disorder allowing decades of quality life. Moreover, people who know they are HIV infected can take steps to protect their partners. (And treatment lowers the “viral load” or presence of the virus in the blood, making transmission less likely.)
Your doctor doesn't need a separate consent form to do the HIV test and you don't require prescreening counseling since this test is considered to be part of routine care. You may only need to be tested once, unless you are exposed to a known risk factor in the future. If you get pregnant, a repeat HIV test should be done as part of your prenatal testing. Routine HIV testing in pregnancy has been very successful and the number of infants born with HIV in the U.S. has declined from 1650 in 1991 to less than 240 a year today. The CDC hopes to bring this number down to zero.
There are several kinds of HIV tests that can be done, some will give preliminary results in just 20 minutes and cost less than $10.
Dr. Reichman’s Bottom Line: Don't consider HIV testing to be a question of your personal lifestyle and sexual habits. It should now be a part of routine health, like getting your blood pressure checked or having a Pap smear.
Dr. Judith Reichman, the “Today” show's medical contributor on women's health, has practiced obstetrics and gynecology for more than 20 years. You will find many answers to your questions in her latest book, "Slow Your Clock Down: The Complete Guide to a Healthy, Younger You," which is now available in paperback. It is published by William Morrow, a division of .
PLEASE NOTE: The information in this column should not be construed as providing specific medical advice, but rather to offer readers information to better understand their lives and health. It is not intended to provide an alternative to professional treatment or to replace the services of a physician.