“Are you ready to hear your test results,” asked Mariah Malcolm, HIV counseling and testing coordinator at the HIV Services Clinic in Boise.
Truthfully, I wasn’t ready. I was scared. The palms of my hands moistened and a fearful sensation threw my stomach into a frenzy of knots and spasms. I thought, “If the results are positive, what will I tell my wife? How could I cope with HIV?”
My hesitation was obvious. “It’s common to be nervous. Most people are absolutely petrified when they come in,” Malcolm said.
The test she administered was called an HIV rapid test and only required me to rub my gums with a special cotton swab. The swab was attached to a device that looked like a pregnancy test and only took 20 minutes to determine the results. The test is free and just as accurate as any other blood or urine test.
“The reason this virus is still being transmitted at its current rate is because people don’t know if they have HIV,” Malcolm said, “It’s important to know.” The Center for Disease Control and Prevention said they estimate that over one million Americans are living with HIV, and 24 to 27 percent of them are unaware of their infection.?
According to www.avert.org, Americans between the ages of 15 to 29 equal 25 percent of the total HIV-positive population in the nation. Malcolm said HIV testing among college students has picked up, especially when couples go in together.
“A respectful way to start a relationship is to be tested. Typically, couples that come here leave happy and excited,” she said.
Malcolm said education is essential in preventing the spread of infection.
“We don’t want it to be such an awful thing to be HIV positive that people would rather not find out their status, because there is so much stigma, shame and misunderstanding with being positive,” she said.
Malcolm has been working for the HIV Services Clinic for over four years, and specializes in educating and counseling people with HIV and AIDS. She said living with the condition isn’t as difficult as it was years ago and patients are able enjoy their lives.
The pamphlet she gave me said there were several ways to protect myself from infection, including safer sex, monogamy and abstinence. Sharing needles to inject drugs, vitamins or steroids, for tattooing or piercing also puts anyone at risk. Safer sex guidelines suggest the following:
_õ Engage in sexual activities that do not put you in contact with someone else’s blood, semen, or vaginal fluids.
_õ Use a new latex condom and water-based lubricant every time you have sex.
_õ Don’t use oil-based lubricants.
_õ Use a barrier for oral sex.
_õ Never share sex toys. If you do, wash them well and cover them with a new condom each time.
Although I thought my odds of having the virus were low, the only way to be certain was to be tested. Now I know my HIV status.