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The truth is, even right after a negative result from an HIV test, you could still be HIV positive and actually more contagious than at any other point in your life.
So how do you protect yourself?
As an active member of this community, it is each individual’s responsibility to get tested for STDs on a regular basis. Not only does this protect yourself but it protects those around you.
With many STDs, a diagnosis can be made within a few minutes of an exam; others may take a couple weeks. One test, though, stands out due to its inability to accurately diagnose until two or more months have passed since infection.
The standard HIV test given at clinics in California accurately tells us what we may or may not have had about three months ago. I don’t know about you but a lot can happen in the course of three months (breakups, new relationships, white party, pride, etc.).
What about that window of time where your HIV status is unknown?
It just so happens that recently infected people are also at their absolute highest viral levels and can most easily spread HIV during this window period. This is because the body has yet to begin making antibodies, which is what the standard HIV test looks for.
So what can we do?
Luckily for San Diegans, we have an incredible alternative to waiting and waiting and waiting. A different type of test, known as the Early Test, is being utilized by UCSD to conduct research on the early stages of HIV.
The Early Test does not look for antibodies, which could take three or more months to begin production; instead it looks for the virus itself in the bloodstream. This viral load test conducted by the Anti Viral Research Center (AVRC) at UCSD is absolutely free and can eliminate months of doubt and replace it with days before a confirmed result. As little as one week after a potential exposure to HIV, you can be accurately tested at the AVRC.
The entire process takes place at the AVRC, or at the LGBT Center in Hillcrest, or at the Gay Men’s Health Clinic in North Park. The staff associated with AVRC could not be friendlier and the medical personnel were entirely genuine and concerned about the wellbeing of the patient.
Is it anonymous? No; however, it is confidential and there is no need to return for results in person, as they are posted by the test number (not by name) online.
The test involves both an antibody test with results before leaving the office, a short counseling session where the UCSD study is described and some good knowledge shared, and finally the viral load test. Viral load test results are made available to the patient between one and two weeks after.
AVRC tests a couple hundred people a month and has room for many more.
The fact that AVRC is not being utilized to its absolute fullest potential is sad. This is why it’s important to spread the word about the work UCSD is doing for our community - at no cost to the individual - except a little bit of time and a few milliliters of blood, which could ultimately change your life and the life of those you have contact with.
AVRC is working toward the improvement of duration and quality of life for those infected with HIV. Their work also helps in the development of new medications.
The AVRC is located at 220 Dickenson St. in Hillcrest. For more information, visit https://theearlytest.ucsd.edu
Joey Jackson is a graduate of Southern Illinois University, a 2010 graduate of Colorado Technical University with a MBA in marketing. He is a former Marine, and is a triathlete. Originally from Illinois, he moved to San Diego in 2004 and fell in love. He writes for pleasure while traveling the world and continuing his education. He believes that experience is the spice of life and tries to find new things to see, do and write about, everywhere he goes.