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HIV/AIDS - diagnosis & treatment

How Is HIV/AIDS diagnosed?

The only way to know if you do have HIV is to have a blood test that looks specifically for the infection.

However, the tests actually look for antibodies produced by the body to fight HIV infection. There are two tests, the ELISA and Western Blot; they may be used in combination to be sure that any HIV antibodies are found.

The average person will develop the antibodies to HIV within 25 days of exposure to the virus.

After three months, there's a 97% chance that HIV testing will detect these antibodies, though in rare cases it may take up to six months for tests to find antibodies to the virus. Because of this the official recommendation is that anyone at increased risk of HIV infection be tested three months after possible exposure to HIV and then be re-tested at six months.

Getting tested is simple: a blood sample is taken and sent to a laboratory. Testing can be done both confidentially and anonymously, so be sure to ask whether or not your name is associated with your testing if you're concerned about having your test results stay anonymous.

The advantage of being tested by a sexual health clinic or doctor is the counselling that's provided on test results, prevention, and safe sex practices. Test results are usually available in a matter of days. HIV testing is never done without a person's informed consent.

The meaning of HIV test results

Testing can be stressful - so much so that some people avoid getting tested. This is understandable, but it isn't sensible. Getting tested as soon as the guidelines recommend assures that if someone is infected, when appropriate, treatment can be initiated that may make a difference.

It's important to talk to someone about what being tested means and how you'll deal with the results. A doctor, counsellor, or religious advisor can help you think about what testing means to you. If you don't have someone to support you during testing, call your local HIV/ AIDS charity or organisation. They usually have volunteer counsellors who have been through the testing experience and can talk with you. You don't have to go through it alone.

If your HIV test is positive, you need to create a plan for how you'll take care of yourself and protect others. HIV is not the "death sentence" it once was. Many people live long, happy lives with HIV. However, ongoing medical care is essential to live successfully with HIV. If you don't have a doctor, your local health department or HIV/AIDS organisation can help you to find one.

Anyone who tests positive for HIV has a responsibility to tell everyone they've had sexual contact with, so these partners can be tested - and get treatment if needed. This includes all sexual partners and people who have shared IV drug needles and equipment. Your HIV clinic can assist with partner notification.

Other than these partners who may be directly affected by your HIV, revealing that you have HIV to other people in your life is a personal decision. You can decide who to tell and when you tell them. If you have children, you may want to include a counsellor to help you talk with them and tell them you have HIV/AIDS.

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