Breaking the Stereotypes - National HIV Testing Day

The human immunodeficiency virus – known as HIV – has existed in the United States for at least four decades; the first official report of HIV was in the Center for Disease Control’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report in June 1981. The virus attacks the body’s immune system, and if not treated, can lead to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). There’s no cure for HIV, but there are effective treatments. 

Stigma and discrimination have surrounded HIV since the first reports of HIV surfaced in 1981.  Stigma is rooted in fear; a lack of information can lead people to fear of getting HIV or believing that only certain groups can get HIV. Early misinformation continues to contribute to stigma around HIV.  It’s important to note that HIV is not transmitted through casual contact with an HIV-positive person, only certain bodily fluids can transmit HIV, and those fluids must come into contact with a mucous membrane or damaged tissue or be directly injected into the bloodstream. 

Stigma isn’t only external, internalized stigma or self-stigma can happen when people take those negative ideas and stereotypes about people who are at risk of getting, or already have, HIV and apply those negatives to themselves. This fear can keep people from getting tested and treated for HIV.  Yet getting tested is the only way to know for sure you if you have HIV. 

Testing is an important component of prevention.  If HIV status is known, options are available to prevent illness and prevent the spread of HIV.  Proper treatment of HIV not only helps HIV-positive people stay healthy; it can help protect the health of others.  Attaining and keeping an undetectable viral load results in an almost zero risk of transmitting HIV. 

The CDC recommends that everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 get tested for HIV at least once, as part of their routine health care. Those with risk factors should be tested annually, while sexually active gay and bisexual men might consider getting tested more frequently. There are three types of tests available, nucleic acid tests (NAT), antigen/antibody tests, and antibody tests. There are also two types of tests that can be done at home, but these are not always covered by insurance. You can find an HIV test here.  More information on HIV prevention, treatment and testing can be found at the CDC’s Let’s Stop HIV Together website.  

Public health agencies also play a role in reducing the spread of HIV. Using the tools included in an electronic disease surveillance and outbreak management system such as Conduent’s Maven platform, these agencies can perform contact tracing, event linking and detect outbreaks of HIV — and persons who have been exposed to HIV can then be contacted for testing. Maven’s ability to provide the data for analysis and reporting can also alert public health practitioners to geographic areas where more intense intervention can be utilized to reduce the spread of HIV. 

Contact the Maven team at maven@conduent.com for more information or to schedule a demo of the Maven platform.

About the Author

Pamela Knight-Schwartz, MPH

Pamela Knight-Schwartz, MPH is the Director of Public Health Consulting at Conduent Public Health Solutions. She has more than 15 years of experience in public health informatics, working in immunization information systems, disease surveillance systems, and prescription drug monitoring programs in corporate and government environments.

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