HIV testing coming to the health center

October 20, 2006

The Health Center will be offering HIV testing the week of the 23rd of October. According to Kathleen Maloney, Nurse Practitioner and Administrator of the Health Center, HIV testing has been in the works for a while now. Part of the reason why it was taking so long to implement is related to the logistical difficulties of offering such a test, one where confidentiality and counseling are major components. The impressive show of campus-wide support for HIV testing last year certainly influenced the decision to prioritize this issue and put the program in place this semester.

Kathleen Maloney is running the program, and will be the person actually doing the tests. She has a great deal of experience in this particular issue from her work at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, where she conducted HIV testing in a time when an HIV-positive result was a much bleaker diagnosis. For the couple years after the HIV test was developed, there was still no treatment available. Today, there are many options for treatment, and this provides an even greater incentive for testing since there are often more options the sooner the virus is caught.

To clarify, HIV stands for the Human Immunodeficiency Virus. It is a virus transmitted through blood and sexual fluids. (You cannot contract HIV from saliva, handshakes, toilet seats, or hugging.) If left untreated, the virus will kill T-helper cells, a type of white blood cell in the immune system that fights off disease. When a person begins to get sick from specific diseases as a result of the low T-helper cell count, or that count drops below 200, the person has AIDS, or Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome.

The HIV test does not count T-helper cells, but instead looks for HIV antibodies. If these antibodies (which develop to fight the HIV virus) are present, that means that the HIV virus is present. Also, the HIV antibodies probably will not show up on a test until around 6 weeks after your body is exposed to HIV. This means you should wait at least 6 weeks before getting tested. Some health care professionals argue that in rare cases, HIV could take up to 6 months to show up on a test.

Getting tested on a regular basis is a good idea. Having unprotected sex might be another reason to get tested. Kathleen Maloney reminds us: The way to be safe isnt to be tested once a month. Regular HIV testing should not be an excuse to practice unsafe sex. Barrier methods, including condoms, Reality condoms, dental dams, and gloves are great options for practicing safer sex. Condoms have been proven to be 99% effective in preventing the transmission of HIV.

If you would like to get tested at the Health Center, it is recommended that you call ahead to make an appointment with Kathleen Maloney a week in advance. You will also be asked to schedule a follow-up visit for two weeks afterward, when the results come back from the lab. Of course, if it is an emergency, the Health Center will make an effort to see you right away. In this particular case, an emergency could be a situation where you just found out your partner, with whom you have had or been having unprotected sex, is HIV-positive.

When you schedule your appointment, the Health Center will take down your name and phone number. This is purely for scheduling reasons, since HIV testing at the Health Center is confidential. This means that your results cannot be released to anyone (not even your parents, not even if youre still a minor) without your express, written, consent. The test costs $27, which is the cost of the lab processing fee. Unless you wish to have your insurance billed, the Health Center will bill you directly through your student account. On either bill, the test will show up under a vague term, which could refer to a number of different medical tests. At the lab, your blood sample will only be marked by a bar code, so not even the lab techs will see your name.

Your results will be kept in a sealed envelope in your medical file at the Health Center. If, for some reason, the Health Center needs to send a copy of your medical record to another doctor, your results will not be included. The sealed envelope helps to prevent someone from accidentally copying them and sending them by mistake. Both positive and negative results will be kept in these envelopes, so not even the Health Center staff will know what your HIV status is.

Counseling is an important part of agreeing to take the test, and receiving your results. This is not just a Brandeis Health Center specific policy, but also the national procedure for HIV testing. Before you take the test, you will have a conversation about what HIV and AIDS are, and about your personal risk factors. This will be determined from an explanation of your sexual history and sexual practices so dont be surprised by some personal questions.

If your test results come back negative, you will have a follow-up conversation about risks and behaviors, and ways to protect yourself. If your tests have come back positive, the Health Center will have a trained counselor from the Mailman Counseling Center on hand for support, though they will not be in the room when you receive your results. If the results are positive, you and Kathleen might talk about what that means to you, how it might affect your life, and what supports you have available to you. She will also suggest that you talk to someone at Mailman, though you would be able to decide if, who and how often.

Maloney does not expect to see a lot of positive results. A friend of hers, who works at a large Boston area college or university, has been doing HIV testing for 10 years and has never gotten a positive result. Maloney predicts a similar outcome here, but recognizes that HIV is not owned by a certain population of people, and could have made its way onto campus.

During last years initiative, hundreds of students signed up for testing to show support for the political campaign to have testing at the Health Center. Maloney wants to remind us that The political piece is over now and that students should come to get tested for health reasons, not to make a political statement. She asks students to be thoughtful of their fellow classmates, and not take time and resources away from those who really need the service.

SSIS would like to remind you that the Health Center isnt your only option. Other testing sites in the area offer free testing, anonymous testing. Some sites are especially friendly to LGBT, and especially T, communities. SSIS, with the help of other student counseling groups, Mailman, and now the Health Center, wants to provide you with as much on-campus support as possible. We are always there to talk, either in our office on the third floor of the Shapiro Campus Center, Monday through Friday 1 pm to 7 pm, by phone (x63695) or through IM (ssisbrandeis).

If you would like to submit a question to be answered in the SSIS Question Sex-tion column, send your emails to ssis@brandeis.edu. Your identity will be kept completely confidential.

Menu Title