Anonymous on August 12, 2011

I’m too scared to get tested for HIV...what should I do?

I am a 22-year-old college student and have been with 14 partners. Three of them did not wear condoms. I had an STD a while ago, but nothing since then. I also get yearly exams and haven’t had sex in over a year. But I’m worried that I might have AIDS. I feel almost crazy thinking about it…and I’m too scared to get tested. What should I do?

answered by Daniel Perlman, MD, MBA on August 12, 2011

I understand your concerns. Not knowing whether you have an STD can cause a lot of anxiety.

From what you describe, it sounds like your risk of being infected with HIV (the virus that causes AIDS in some people) is low. (You risk increases if you know one of your partner’s was HIV-positive.)

However, getting tested for HIV is still a good idea. If nothing else, it can answer the question that’s driving you crazy. Because you mentioned you had unprotected sex, getting tested for HIV and other STDs is especially important. STDs, including HIV, can be spread through unprotected sex (oral, vaginal or anal)…and if you think you might have been exposed to HIV, there’s a chance you’ve been exposed to other STDs, like gonorrhea, chlamydia, herpes, syphilis, or hepatitis B or getting tested for those STDs is a good idea too.

You may be scared to get tested, but whether you’re positive or negative, your results can help you take better care of yourself. If your tests comes back negative, you’ll probably breathe a sigh of relief. And if you test positive for an STD, you’ll be better informed to take control of your health and get treated, if necessary. These days, a positive HIV result is no longer a death sentence. With new therapies, people who are HIV-positive are living longer, healthier lives...but early treatment helps. If you test positive for any STDs, I also encourage you to notify your most recent sexual partner so he or she can get tested, too.

Identifying STDs early will allow you to get whatever medical help you need, and can prevent future complications or additional infections. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, treating other STDs early can also reduce your risk of getting HIV if you’re exposed to the virus.

Your risk of HIV is low, and your risk of AIDS is even lower. AIDS is caused by HIV, which weakens the immune system. But not every person with HIV has AIDS and there are treatments that can control HIV symptoms and slow any immune system damage that might lead to AIDS. For more information about HIV symptoms, risk factors, testing and treatment, you might want to browse our Expert Guide to HIV.

Do your yearly exams include STD testing? Many doctors don’t automatically test for STDs during your annual Pap smear…instead many doctors and clinics won’t test for STDs unless you ask for specific tests. Bring up your questions with your regular doctor for assistance getting tested, or there are now a number of legitimate online testing facilities to help you.

In addition to annual exams and testing…before you have sex with a new partner, you should both get tested. It’s always a good idea to know each other’s status and risks before you start any sexual activity.

Finally, practicing safer sex can help protect your health and avoid worry. In future, to lower your risk of STDs, I encourage you to use condoms or dental dams each and every time that you have any kind of sexual activity.

I hope I was able to address your concerns, and I wish you good health.

Related info:

Daniel Perlman, MD, MBA

Dr. Perlman is a Colorado-based infectious disease specialist (including HIV and other STDs) in private practice at Greater Denver Infectious Diseases. Additionally, he is Assistant Clinical Professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. Dr. Perlman was educated at theUniversity of Maryland School of Medicine, and completed his residency in internal medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

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