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HIV Time Frame?

Jun 24, 2002

I am new to the whole "Gay" thing, and I am educating myself on HIV for preventative reasons (of course) This is my question/problem... How can you tell if someone is infected and actually telling the truth? From what I am to understand 3-6 months is the time frame of which you know you are infected, right? So if you are infected you wont know for 3-6 months? Talk about anxiety and panic attacks! Although I have never been with a man sexually how can people live like that, straight or gay? I don't get it.

Response from Mr. Kull

First, let me address the "telling if someone is infected" thing. The only way you can truly know if someone is infected is if the tell you that they are. Otherwise, it's just a guessing game. That's why prevention people were saying early in the epidemic that one should proceed with safer sex practices AS IF one's sexual partners were infected with HIV. I'm not sure how well this works (how anxiety provoking, to walk around thinking that everyone is infected with HIV!), but the idea behind it is valid.

Here's another unfortunate twist. People infected with HIV are probably most infectious in the first few months of infection when viral levels peak. This is the period when people generally do not know that they are infected, which probaly accounts for a large number of transmission cases.

So, a person telling you that they are not infected with HIV isn't enough to forego condom use. What their sexual behavior has been since their last test is crucial knowledge as well. Otherwise, if you are using condoms for sex, you are greatly reducing your odds of infection.

How do you know if someone is telling the truth? Don't know. My suggestion: make sure your sexual practices reflect not only your practical wisdom, but also your level of trust and comfort. If you are dating a guy for a few months and want to stop using condoms, but still feel a bit wary about doing that, keep using condoms until you feel otherwise. Learning to trust your gut, and act in accordance with that, is one crucial element to sex.

If you find that sex makes you too anxious, even if you are being "safe", consider talking with a counselor.

In terms of testing, HIV antibody testing is considered definitive three months after your last exposure. Most people develop a detectable level of antibodies within the first month of infection, so if you have a high risk exposure (anal sex without condoms with an infected person, or a person who is at high risk), see a doctor as soon as possible. You might be eligible for early detection and/or treatment options.

I can't do justice to the issues that you raise in this forum. Living in the age of AIDS can be extremely anxiety provoking for everyone, especially gay men. The consequences of this anxiety can be quite profound, so I commonly suggest that gay people have firm supports in place where they can talk things out (friends, support groups, psychotherapists, spiritual advisors, family, etc.).


Dr. Kull can you explain these test results

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