There is only one way to know if you have HIV: get tested. You cannot tell if you or someone else is infected with HIV just by looking. If you are worried you may be infected or have engaged in risky behaviour in the past, the only way to ease your mind is to be tested.
Getting tested may be a difficult thing to do
For some people getting tested for HIV is a very difficult thing to do. It takes courage to choose to face reality. If you think you may be infected, you need to go to a testing centre that has confidential counselling services and find out your HIV status.
Because of the stigma attached to the virus, some young people may feel embarrassed to go or fear they will not be welcomed at a testing centre. They might also be scared of what the results will show, what they will do if they are positive and what they will tell their partner and their family. These are all normal fears but should not outweigh the importance of getting tested. If you do not know your status, you could be infecting others.
Finding the right testing centre
HIV tests may be available at hospitals, family planning clinics or clinics for sexually-transmitted infections, community health centres, drug treatment facilities or doctors’ offices. Contact your local health department for approved testing centres and counselling services in your area. Or talk to a health care provider (such as a doctor, nurse or a person with medical knowledge), a parent, a guardian or a trusted adult, brother or sister, to ask where you can get more information.
It is very important that there are confidential counselling services along with testing. Counsellors can explain the testing process, teach you about the virus and how it can spread, as well as help you deal with whatever the test result may be.
If you find out that you are infected with HIV, it will not be easy, but you can learn to cope with it. For many people, the infection progresses very slowly and they live healthy, productive lives with the virus for 10 to 20 years, particularly if they take good care of themselves.
New drug therapies, such as anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs), can help a person stay healthier for longer periods of time. Combinations of three or more ARVs, commonly called ‘drug cocktails,’ are effective in reducing the concentration of HIV in infected individuals and so keeping them healthier. Good nutrition can help people infected with HIV to live longer and healthier.
Once infected with HIV, even if a person is taking these new drugs and feeling and looking healthy, she or he will still have HIV and be able to transmit HIV.