In 2019, 21% of all new HIV diagnoses were between the ages of 13-24. But despite this, almost half of young people living with HIV do not know they have the virus. Since testing and other routine medical visits decreased during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is likely that even more people with HIV today don’t know they have the virus.
On National HIV Testing Day, we invite young people to get tested, know their status, and promote testing within their communities.
Why is HIV testing important?
Getting tested is the first step in HIV prevention and treatment. The CDC recommends that everyone should get tested for HIV at least once, but only 9% of high school students have ever been tested for HIV.
Getting tested for HIV is the only way to know whether you have the virus. Most people with HIV don’t have any symptoms for years. It’s also impossible to tell whether someone has HIV just by looking at them.
HIV (and other sexually transmitted infection, or STI) testing is a standard part of staying healthy, just like getting your blood pressure checked. It also lets you take care of the health of your partner(s) and avoid accidentally passing the virus to someone else, if you do have it.
Knowing your HIV status is also important because while HIV isn’t curable, it is treatable.
Getting diagnosed and starting treatment early is key to staying healthy. In fact, many people who stay in treatment become undetectable. This means that the amount of virus in their body is very low. At this point, you can’t transmit the virus to someone else. (This is where the phrase “undetectable = untransmittable” comes from.)
If you’re not used to talking about sex, then talking about sex and testing with a medical provider might feel awkward or uncomfortable. That’s ok! Just know that your medical provider is a professional and wants to help you become the healthiest version of yourself. They’re not there to judge you.
Will my parents know that I got tested for HIV?
All HIV testing is confidential. This means that no one, including your parents, will know that you got tested (unless you tell them). You also don’t need a parent’s permission to get tested.
At the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center, Project IMPACT provides comprehensive HIV testing, prevention, and treatment. We serve young people ages 13-24 and all of our services are at no cost to the patient..
Many young people avoid getting tested because they are worried that their parents, guardians, or peers will find out. Here at the Center, we pride ourselves on confidentiality. We do not require parental consent for care, and won’t use your insurance unless you say it’s alright.
How do I get tested for HIV?
You can get tested at your regular doctor’s office, a community, family planning, or walk-in clinic, or special HIV testing sites. Find HIV testing locations (including free and low-cost testing) near you using the CDC’s site locator.
If you’re 10-26 years old in NYC, you can make an appointment at the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center. Our Project IMPACT program provides HIV testing, prevention (like PrEP and PEP), and treatment at no cost to patients. We also provide additional STI testing and treatment, primary care, mental health services, and more!
I was tested for HIV. Now what?
If your test was negative:
Keep taking care of your health. You should…
- Continue to get tested with new partners.
- Talk with new sexual partners about when they were last tested.
- Use condoms or other barrier methods for safer sex. Remember, HIV isn’t the only STI, and if you’re having penis-in-vagina sex it’s also important to prevent pregnancy.
- Ask your provider about how often you should be tested for HIV and other STIs.
You can also start PrEP or Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, a daily pill that when taken as prescribed is up to 99% effective at preventing HIV. Ask your provider if PrEP is right for you! At the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center we can prescribe PrEP and coordinate care so you can start medication.
If your test was positive:
Knowing your status is the first step to getting the care you need and deserve. You may have a lot of feelings about your diagnosis. That’s normal and ok. Remember that having HIV doesn’t say anything about who you are as a person. HIV is not a death sentence, and you can still live a long, healthy life. Many HIV testing sites and clinics have counselors who will talk to you about next steps and connect you to care and other services. If not—or if you just want more resources or information—check out HIV.gov’s “What’s the Next Step After You’re Diagnosed with HIV?”
At the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center, when a young person tests positive we can begin care that same day. Our social workers and medical providers will meet with you to do lab tests, go over medication, and talk through your questions. It is important to remember that HIV is treatable, and early detection is key to living a healthy life!
No matter what your results are, it’s great that you’re taking charge of your sexual health.
10-26 years old in NYC? Call 212-423-3000 to get confidential, comprehensive health care including birth control, STI testing and treatment, vaccines, physicals, and so much more at the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center—all under one roof, at no cost to you!