You can only be certain you have the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) if you get tested regularly. HIV attacks your immune system, limiting your ability to fight infections and disease. How often you should get tested for this potentially deadly virus — it causes AIDS — depends on your risk.

River Oaks ER doctors align with the recommendations of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention when it comes to frequency of HIV testing. You should get tested at least one time as part of your routine health care if you’re between the ages of 13 and 64. Many people are not aware of their risk, so even if you don’t currently engage in risky behavior — getting tested once is a good precaution. Higher-risk groups may need more frequent testing.

How HIV spreads

HIV spreads through direct sexual intercourse, including vaginal, anal, and oral sex. Condoms can help protect you from getting the virus, but they don’t guarantee you won’t get it.

Other ways to catch HIV involve sharing needles or equipment for drug use. If you get blood from a person with HIV in your mucus membranes, such as your eyes or throat, you can develop HIV also. And mothers can pass HIV to their child through birth or during breastfeeding.

Frequency of testing

If you work in a health care environment or anyplace else where you may be exposed to HIV, getting a test once a year is a good practice. If you’re pregnant or planning on getting pregnant in the near future, it’s also important for you to do an extra test.

If you’re at high risk of developing HIV, come into River Oaks ER once every 3-6 months to get tested.

High-risk groups

People at higher risk include those who’ve had sexual intercourse with someone who is or might be infected with HIV. If this sounds like you, get tested right away.

If you use injected street drugs or you’ve shared needles, had sex with a drug user, had more than three sexual partners in the last year, or had a blood transfusion between 1977 and 1985, testing is important.

You should also get tested immediately if you’ve had direct contact with blood that :may be infected with HIV, such as being stuck with a needle. If you recently lived in or traveled to a country that has a high rate of HIV, you should also get tested regularly.

If you’re in a monogamous relationship and both of you have tested negative for HIV, the one test should be sufficient unless you have other risk factors for HIV or your relationship status changes.

How knowing if I have HIV helps

If you know you have HIV, you can develop a care strategy to prevent it from developing into acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). It can take more than 10 years for HIV symptoms to show up, meaning you’re potentially spreading it and experiencing immune system damage without knowing it.

Early treatment means you stay healthier and delay the onset of AIDS and serious complications.

If you’re planning on becoming pregnant, or are pregnant, knowing you have HIV early on can prevent the transfer of the virus to your offspring.

Call River Oaks ER to get your HIV test, especially if you haven’t had one yet. If you’re at high risk for contracting the virus, definitely come in for a test — especially if you had recent exposure.