The only way to know your HIV status for sure is to get tested. It is impossible to tell from a person’s appearance whether he or she has HIV infection. A person who is HIV positive may look and feel perfectly well, and be unaware that they are infected.
Should I get tested?
You should seriously consider getting tested for HIV if you have engaged in behaviour that puts you at risk for contracting the virus. High-risk behaviour includes having unprotected penetrative sex and using intravenous drugs with unsterilised needles.
The benefits of getting tested
The sooner you get tested, the sooner you can access treatments and information to help you manage the condition and delay the onset of Aids, should you test positive for HIV. The earlier on in the progress of the infection you get tested and get effective treatment, the easier it is to keep your immune system healthy. Your doctor can monitor your immune system and help you avoid opportunistic diseases, or manage these when they occur.
You may not be in a position to afford antiretroviral medications and other treatments. However, there are additional ways of ensuring that you stay as healthy as possible, such as learning about how to follow a lifestyle with good nutrition and suitable exercise, and avoiding damaging substances such as cigarettes and alcohol.
If you find out you are infected, you can make sure you protect your sex partner from becoming infected. If more people know their HIV status and use the knowledge to act responsibly, the pandemic can be better controlled.
If you are pregnant and test HIV positive, appropriate treatment can reduce the risk of your baby becoming infected. Without treatment, HIV-positive women have about a one-in-four chance of infecting their baby during pregnancy or birth. Treatment can reduce this figure to about one in 12.
Finding out your HIV status as early as possible, gives you time, if you are infected, to make plans for yourself and your dependents to be looked after when you do get sick.
You can help educate others about HIV/Aids, and improve their attitudes and behaviour related to the disease, by talking about your HIV status and your decision to get tested. Remember that giving out this information is entirely your decision. The health professionals and counsellors who conduct and discuss the test with you must, by law, keep the results strictly confidential.