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HIV Testing – Know Your Status

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Today, treatment controls HIV infection so well that the disease is no longer considered fatal, but instead is a chronic disease that’s preventable.

Jean Adie, Outreach Specialist, D-H HIV Program

Since the first annual National HIV Testing Day on June 27, 1995, people have been encouraged to get tested for HIV. Why is it important to get tested? “Testing is more about finding out your status and getting access to tools that are going to protect your life,” says Jean Adie, outreach specialist for the Dartmouth-Hitchcock (D-H’s) HIV Program. “It’s a gateway to a longer, healthier life. Today, treatment controls HIV infection so well that the disease is no longer considered fatal, but instead is a chronic disease that’s preventable.”

One way to prevent the disease is knowing your status; the tests are covered by insurance and Medicaid. Those who are HIV negative, but who may be at risk for infection due to unprotected sex or sharing needles, can take one daily pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) pill. “PrEP is a prescription medication and it’s an excellent treatment to prevent HIV from being transmitted from sex and needle-sharing partners,” says Adie, who notes that PrEP does not protect against other sexually transmitted diseases the way that condoms can. “You should talk to your primary care provider to determine if PrEP is right for you.”

If someone is infected with HIV, the disease can be treated. “If you can get into medical care early enough and take your medications as prescribed, along with living a healthy lifestyle, you can expect to live a near to normal life span and never progress to AIDs, which is a late stage of HIV disease,” says Adie.

Who should get tested?

Everyone who is sexually active should get regular HIV tests as part of their preventative health care. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 get at least one HIV test during their lifetime. More frequent testing is recommended for anyone who is not taking PrEP and is having sex without a condom or who shares injection drug equipment. “Any time an individual has unprotected sex, anytime they share needles, HIV tests should be done to determine their status,” says Adie.

If you do not have a primary care provider or don’t have insurance, free HIV testing is available through the Dartmouth-Hitchcock HIV Program at sites in Nashua, Bedford and Lebanon. You don’t have to be a D-H patient or become a D-H patient to make an appointment for the test. The rapid home HIV test may also be purchased at any pharmacy for about $40 if you wish to take the test at home. Some local health departments’ sites, community health centers and a few other New Hampshire community-based organizations also provide testing, often for a sliding fee scale. Adie says you can call her at 603-629-1266 for more information about these programs.

If someone tests positive for HIV through the D-H program, “we function as a bridge to services that deliver treatments for both negative and positive individuals,” says Adie. “We’re here to make sure that people have access to education and the support they need. Individuals who test positive are linked to medical care either through D-H or another provider in the state. I also link them to their local AIDs Service Organization.”

Adie adds that the Ryan White CARE (Comprehensive Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome Resources Emergency) Program, which is part of the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services, also provides financial assistance to individuals who are income eligible, who don’t have insurance or are underinsured. “For people who have huge co-pays, this program will help pay for medical services and treatments,” she says. “The goal of the D-H program and the state’s programs are to ensure that all individuals who are found to be infected with HIV have access to medical care and treatments that can control the virus, extend their lives and prevent transmission. We’re all working together toward that same goal.”