What is the Difference Between Confidential and Anonymous HIV Testing?
The Centers for Disease Control And Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone, regardless of their risk, undergoes HIV testing at least once in their lifetime. For those who fall into certain high-risk categories, the recommendation is for HIV testing on a regular basis in order to provide ongoing monitoring and protection. With around 35 million people worldwide currently living with HIV, the risk of infection among certain groups is very real and should not be ignored.
High-risk categories for HIV infection are as follows:
Those who have had sex with an IV drug user, or a partner with HIV.
Those who regularly have unprotected sex.
If you have been sexually assaulted or raped.
Drug users who share needles or other equipment that pierces the skin.
Anyone who has ever had a blood transfusion.
Anyone with blank spaces in the memory after drinking or getting high.
If you have ever had an unplanned pregnancy or your mother had HIV when you were born.
The CDC recommends that anyone who falls into any of those groups of people is tested for HIV. Men and women are equally at risk, with anal or vaginal sex having equal risk factors. Even non-penetrative, oral sex can put you at risk if you have broken skin such as a mouth ulcer.
Why Testing Is Important and How It Can Help
While HIV is incurable, it is treatable, and by getting a diagnosis followed by the correct treatment and medication, those with HIV can live fuller, longer, and healthier lives.
The only way to find out if you have HIV infection is to be tested. You can have the infection and not show any symptoms, sometimes for years. This increases the risk of you passing the disease to someone else as well, of course, as shortening your own life. It is especially important for pregnant women, as there is medication available which can help prevent the unborn baby picking up the infection.
Types of Treatment
There are two types of treatment available:
Pre-exposure Prophylaxis:PrEP: This was developed specifically to help people in high-risk groups avoid HIV infection. It is used alongside other accepted risk-reducing methods such as not sharing needles and using condoms during sex. It is not intended for those who are concerned about HIV infection following a one-off occasion such as a casual one-night stand or in the event of a condom bursting.
Post-exposure Prophylaxis: PEP is an emergency treatment that prevents HIV infection taking hold following exposure. There is a very short time window, just 72 hours, during which the medication is most effective. Urgent care clinics, doctor’s surgeries, HIV clinics, and emergency rooms are able to prescribe PEP treatment.
Confidential and Anonymous HIV Testing
Understandably, those at risk are often reluctant to seek treatment. There may be a variety of reasons why people avoid having a test: fear of being judged, maybe feeling ashamed or embarrassed, or maybe just hoping everything will be okay.
There are two types of HIV testing, which offer different levels of confidentiality or anonymity. Both offer the same testing methods and are equally reliable.
Confidential Testing: regulations may vary in different states, but with confidential testing, your medical records and information is protected by federal law, which governs who the information can be revealed to. However, identifying information along with your name is attached to your test results. This is shared with agencies such as local public health officials, and used to track new, unique cases. Only authorized persons can access your records, which are protected by HIPAA regulations. Some states allow test results to be shared with insurance companies, but following the Affordable Care Act, insurance companies are not allowed to discriminate against those with pre-existing health conditions, including HIV.
Anonymous Testing: Anonymous testing is not available in every state, but FDA approved home HIV testing kits are. When you receive an anonymous HIV test, all identifying information is stripped from the test results, with no one having access to the results but you.
Having the choice between anonymous testing or confidential testing removes any emotional barriers that may prevent those at risk from HIV infection seeking essential medication they potentially need.