Some days I feel that the medical community is failing us. I might have known about my HIV status sooner, if only a doctor had advised me about getting tested. Before I was diagnosed with HIV I suffered for over 18 months with thrush, not knowing what was wrong with me, my symptoms getting worse by the day. I eventually lost all of my ability to taste and went to a clinic for help with this issue. The Physician Assistant examined my mouth and suggested several blood tests, including an HIV test, to which I agreed. A few days later I went back to the clinic and was informed that I was HIV positive. I was in shock! After the additional blood tests, I was told I could have had undiagnosed HIV for 6-10 years. My CD4 count was at 12 and my viral load was over 157,000. I had AIDS!
I saw many doctors over the 6-10 years prior to my diagnosis. I believe my previous doctors looked at the number of years I was married and disregarded the thought of offering me the HIV test, even during my annual check-ups. This is a big problem and it may be why older women are diagnosed so late with HIV. A long-term marriage or relationship does not protect us from contracting HIV.
I know, first hand, just how much harm physicians can cause their patients when they don’t offer HIV tests! As positive women, we already know our status-but so many others do not, and many women are too embarrassed to ask for the test.
Are your healthcare providers talking to their patients about HIV testing? Next time you go in for your annual exams, talk with your provider about their HIV testing protocols. Advocate for providers to offer HIV testing to ALL of their patients. It is part of their responsibility; it’s part of their oath, ‘Do No Harm’.
*This post was adapted from a message originally published in the “LTAI Calendar of Recommendations for Providers Serving the Positive Community.”