Thursday, June 27, 2013

Today is National HIV Testing Day - what Obama & Dr. Owen have to say

Public Domain - President Barack Obama, 2009
Today is the United States’ 19th National HIV Testing Day. A rally going throughout the country with even president Obama addressing the nation and reminds everyone between the age 15-64 to get regularly screened for HIV. There are nearly 1.2 Americans living with HIV and 50,000 new infections every year. Worst of all, a quarter of all people living with the virus don’t even know they have it

Reason enough for us to start a whole series on Smarten Up on HIV. So you think you know HIV? Its meaning, history, new developments like PEP and PrEP? We bring you up to date on today’s knowledge and are honored that Dr. William Owen, veteran in the HIV field is taking that journey with us!

So what is HIV and AIDS? Are they the same? What’s the difference?

So just like with our HPV and Michael Douglas’ cunnilingus post, let us start with the basics and that is the words themselves and how they differ from each other. You don’t want to read anymore? Then good news, we actually made a video for you:

So to summarize again:

  • HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. So it is a virus that targets us (humans) and leads to a failure of the natural defense mechanisms of our body (immune system).
  • AIDS on the other hand stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. So it is an obtained condition caused by a failure of the natural defense mechanism of your body. In other words AIDS is the result of an untreated HIV infection.
  • As Dr. Owen points out, you can remember the difference easily by the V (think of ‘virus’) in HIV and the D (think of ‘disease’) in AIDS.
You might ask why the medical community makes it so complicated. After all, we don’t have two words for herpes either. Its herpes when you have the virus and herpes on your lip (or anywhere else) when it breaks out.

The reason for the two names is that AIDS was a description of that new condition witnessed in the 80ies before it was even known that a virus caused the syndrome. So the two names have an historical origin. Confusing, yes and its still hard for many to grasp the difference. Take the recently published comic book “AIDS in the End Zone”. Jacob from the HIVPlusMag correctly points out that the title should be “HIV in the End Zone” since none of the characters actually develops AIDS

So Who should get tested?

We will get into more details how HIV works and how to protect yourself in a later episode of Smarten Up. For Testing Day, let us focus on who should get tested.  The United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends with the highest grade that
  • Everyone between the age of 15 and 65 should get screened for HIV as part of their routine health care.
  • All pregnant women who don’t know their status should get tested for HIV
  • Younger adolescent and older adults should get tested if they are at increased risk such as: men who have sex with men, using injection based drugs, having unprotected sex, having more than one sex partner, having a partner who has HIV infection (magnetic couple), and exchanging sex for drugs or money.
As Paul Wax summarizes in his post in The Body Pro, these recommendations largely follow those already set by other organizations such as the Center of Disease Control (CDC). However, the USPSTF is known to caution doctors from over-testing so having a clear testing guidelines from them carries even a bit more weight with doctors. Or how Paul puts it “it must be the right thing to do. Because these guys are tough.”

HIV Test Locator

To make it really easy, you can use the AIDS.GOV test locator below. Just put in your Zip code and it will show you the nearest test center. Of course, you can also obtain a saliva based HIV home test from us!


Your Mission for today

Thanks a lot for reading this far. I hope you now have a better picture of what HIV is and who should get tested. Also, you learned that about 300,000 Americans are estimated to live with HIV without knowing it. So let us work together to make HIV testing as normal as going to the dentist.

So here are your mission objectives:

  • If you are in one of the categories above, go and get tested TODAY! Either in a test center near you or with a home test.
  • Convince at least 3 family members or friends that fall in the category above to get tested. Share on Facebook and share on twitter to get the word out!

Alright, now its time for me to walk the talk. Looking at the recommendation above, that includes me. So I’m off to get tested... until next time!

Special thanks

  • Big thanks to Dr. William Owen for the advice and being part of the video
  • Many thanks to Gregory Go for being a badass video producer, camera man and sound technician!


  1. HEY!!! Doctor Owen is my Doctor and he's right!! Get tested. Be smart. Know and live well.

  2. Thanks a lot Jason for that encouraging comment! :) Will you party with us at SF Pride?


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