I’m participating in an HIV testing clinic on my campus. Here's why you should too.

the voice and vision of a new generation
Antonio E. Hernandez

I’m participating in an HIV testing clinic on my campus. Here's why you should too.

November 29, 2017

When I have sex, I use a condom.

HIV can only be transmitted through certain bodily fluids. (Saliva is not one of them!) There are multiple factors that may affect your likelihood of being at risk for HIV and other STDs. In 2015, youth accounted for 22% of new diagnoses nationally, and young Black and Latinx LGBTQIA+ folks were especially affected. Since I am gay and Latino, I’m more at risk.

I’m not scared, though. I knew the guy I was with, we played safe, and I’ve been feeling great.  Nonetheless, I know that some people with HIV don’t experience any symptoms at all right away, so they may have sex without knowing whether or not they’ve been infected. Commonly, folks may experience fever or vomiting, among other symptoms, within 2-4 weeks of the infection. These symptoms can last longer and people often dismiss them as the flu.

The only way to know is to get tested. There are different kinds of tests. A 4th-generation antigen test or a nucleic acid test (NAT) can give you very accurate results within a couple of weeks of the encounter. But if you want quick results, there are options available for that, too. After having sex, I waited a couple of weeks to get tested. I got a rapid test and got my results a few minutes later.

The test came out negative. The virus, however, could hide for a few months, so it’s always good to come back to your testing center and make sure your results are consistent. That’s why I’m getting tested this World AIDS Day on my college campus.

I’m getting tested because, if you’re sexually active—no matter whether you are straight or not, monogamous or not—you should get tested regularly. Knowledge is power and freedom. You should feel free to enjoy your sex life without preoccupations like being unsure about your status.

Thanks to recent advances in access to antiretroviral therapy (ART), HIV-positive people now live longer and healthier lives. ART decreases the viral load in an HIV+ person, rendering the virus undetectable. FYI, this means that they CAN’T transmit the virus to others.

There are also ways to prevent HIV almost completely, such as Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP),but preventive methods like PrEP need to be complemented by traditional methods like condoms because PrEP does not protect you from other STDs. 

Despite these new advances in prevention and treatment, HIV and AIDS remain among the world's most significant public health challenges, particularly in low and middle-income communities and countries. In 2015, 39,513 people were diagnosed with HIV in the U.S. and Texas ranked third nationally [AB1] in HIV infections. And in Central Texas, where I live, 40% of new HIV infections are in youth ages 15-29, 60% of whom don’t even know they’re infected.

This World AIDS Day (Dec.1st), AIDS Services of Austin (ASA) is coming to my college campus to provide free testing. ASA offers direct services and prevention education for everyone. In addition to assisting folks living with HIV with medical care, ASA raises awareness about HIV, since 1 in 5 people in central Texas are not aware of their HIV status . And when they do know, they’re more likely to seek out treatment.

Much of the progress we’ve made is thanks to organizations like AIDS Services of Austin, so my friends and I are fundraising money for this organization in order to keep providing essential services to my community. We know that every dollar counts, and our donations will dramatically benefit many lives.

Play safe, and know your status.

Tony Hernandez is a GLAAD Campus Ambassador and a senior at the University of Texas at Austin studying government and rhetoric & writing. This spring, Tony will serve as a member of the Bill Archer Fellowship Program in Washington, D.C..

the voice and vision of a new generation