Ask The Docs

The Online Health Resource for Gay & Bisexual Men

Ask the Docs is an online service of Fenway Health that allows gay and bisexual men and transgender people to get answers to questions about their medical, sexual and mental health.

Who Answers These Questions?

Ask The Docs is actually a group of Fenway Health medical and mental health providers who work as a team to answer your questions.  Ask the Docs cannot diagnose specific health issues or conditions over the internet.  Ask the Docs will respond to you directly using the email address you give us.  We will not share your email address with anyone else, either inside or outside of Fenway Health.

If you have immediate concerns about your health, please make an appointment to see your doctor or call Fenway’s Medical Appointment Line at 617.927.6000.  If you have a mental health concern, you can contact Fenway’s Behavioral Health Department at 617.927.6202.

Responses may take up to one week, so if you have an urgent medical or mental health question, please contact your provider. Fenway’s Medical Appointment Line can be reached at 617.927.6000 and Fenway’s Behavioral Health Department can be reached at 617.927.6202.

Ask Us a Question, We'll Respond Directly to the Email Address You Provide.

[contact-form-7 id=”2527″ title=”Ask The Docs”]

What You Need to Know About HIV Antibody Testing

Rapid HIV Testing

Fenway uses the OraQuick ADVANCE® Rapid HIV-1/2 Antibody Test.

Using a single drop of blood collected by finger stick, your counselor can give you a result in 20 minutes. The window period—the time it takes for HIV antibodies to form in the body and be detectable by the test—can be from 2-12 weeks after exposure.

What You Need to Know About HIV Antibody Testing

HIV antibody testing detects for HIV antibodies, NOT the HIV virus itself—an important fact to consider when receiving HIV antibody results. The human immune system creates HIV antibodies as a response to an HIV infection, but it usually takes anywhere from 10 days to 3 months, perhaps longer in some cases, from the day of infection for the body to create enough anti-bodies to be detected in a blood test. Because of this delay, a negative HIV antibody test result does NOT guarantee that someone is not infected with HIV.

It is important to understand the HIV antibody testing process and its limitations, especially when making decisions about sexual risk based on HIV antibody test results.

A negative result:

Does NOT rule out that HIV infection may have occurred in the weeks and months before the antibody test.
Does NOT guarantee that a person is not infected with the virus.
Means that no ANTIBODIES were detected in the blood tested. HIV can be present in the blood before antibodies are detectable.
If a sex partner assures you that he tested HIV negative, keep these things in mind:

Any high-risk sexual behavior he engaged in during the 3 months before the test might not be reflected in that negative antibody test result.

In a recent study of men who have sex with men, 70% of men aged 20-29 who tested HIV positive had believed they were HIV negative — so keep in mind that even though someone may honestly believe they are HIV negative, that doesn’t mean they are.

Fenway offers FREE HIV testing and counseling.
Please call 617.267.0159 for more information.

Remember, early detection of HIV infection can increase your options around taking care of your health and making decisions about treatment, as well as protecting the health of your sexual partners. GET TESTED!

Fourth Generation HIV Testing

In addition to standard 20 minute rapid antibody testing, Fenway offers state-of-the art Generation 4 HIV Ag/Ab testing that not only looks for antibodies, but an antigen as well. This antigen is present in people who are newly infected with HIV and shows up within 14 days of exposure. This test requires a blood draw and results are back in a week or so. One of the big advantages of this test is the fact that the window period is so short. Early detection of HIV can dramatically improve treatment outcomes, as well as prevent those who don’t know they are newly-infected from spreading the virus to others. Newly infected HIV positive people are among the most infectious. Many transmissions happen because most newly-infected people aren’t aware of their status and they inadvertently pass HIV on to their partners.

For some time, we have looked for antibodies to determine if someone has HIV. Although this is still the most common way to detect HIV, there is a window period of about 6-8 weeks after exposure before the HIV antibodies show up.

In addition to standard 20 minute rapid antibody testing, Fenway now offers Generation 4 testing technology that not only looks for antibodies, but an antigen as well. This antigen is present in people who are newly infected with HIV and shows up within 14 days of exposure. With our generation 4 serum testing, HIV infections can be detected 2 weeks after exposure.

Note: this test is not available at all sites and at all times, and a return visit is needed to receive your results, as they are processed in a lab. Ask your counselor if the antigen/antibody serum test is right for you.

Rapid Hepatitis C Testing

This service is free and results are ready in 20 minutes. Call 617.267.0159, or ask your counselor at the time of your visit.

Testing Together— Get Tested with Your Partner

This service is free and results are ready in 20 minutes. Call 617.267.0159, or ask your counselor at the time of your visit.

The HIV & STI Counseling Line

In addition to booking you an appointment or explaining Fenway services, the HIV and STD Counseling Line offers free telephone counseling to those with questions or concerns about their sexual health, health insurance, LGBT issues, referrals and more. Counselors are available by telephone from 9:00 am – 6:00 pm Monday through Thursday, and 10:00 am – 5:00 pm on Fridays. All of our counselors are certified by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and are ready to talk to you. Call 617.267.0159.

Case Management

For patients with complex health problems such as HIV and other chronic illnesses, Fenway offers comprehensive case management services. Our registered nurses and medical social workers help patients understand and access the many resources available to them.

For chronically ill patients, the primary care nurse assumes the additional role of case manager, assisting and supporting you through the course of your illness. Your RN will help you understand the disease process and the impact it is likely to have on your health and provide the information you need to stay healthy and make sound choices about your health care.

Medical social workers are available to help you cope with the practical and emotional aspects of your care and help you access mental health care. A medical social worker can help you apply for Medicare or Medicaid and access community-based services, such as financial, housing and legal assistance programs, and pastoral counseling; coordinate and facilitate communication among multiple service providers; and make referrals to various other services. To help patients deal with the profound disruptions—physical, emotional, and financial—that serious illness or injury can bring, medical social workers also provide short-term, focused counseling and education to patients and their families.

Information About HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis & Other STIs

HIV/AIDS

AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome:

  • Acquired means you can get infected with it.

  • Immune Deficiency means a weakness in the body’s system that fights diseases.

  • Syndrome means a group of health problems that make up a disease.

AIDS is caused by a virus called HIV, the Human Immunodeficiency Virus. If you get infected with HIV, your body will try to fight the infection. It will make antibodies – special molecules to fight HIV. A blood test for HIV looks for these antibodies. If you have them in your blood, it means that you have HIV infection. People who have HIV antibodies are called “HIV-Positive.” To schedule an HIV test or for more information on Fenway’s HIV Counseling & Testing Services, call 617.267.0159. For more information about HIV/AIDS, click here.

Hepatitis

Hepatitis refers to viral infections of the liver. There are several types of hepatitis, but here we will discuss the most common: Hepatitis A, B and C. Different types of hepatitis are transmitted in different ways:

  • Hepatitis A

    is transmitted through oral contact with contaminated feces. It can be passed through sexual contact, especially in men who have sex with men, or by coming into contact with contaminated food. There is a vaccine for Hepatitis A.

  • Hepatitis B

    is highly contagious and usually contracted through sexual contact with an infected partner or through contact with an infected person’s bodily fluids. There is a vaccine for Hepatitis B.

  • Hepatitis C

    is more difficult to acquire than other types of hepatitis and is most commonly transmitted through blood-to-blood contact as can happen when injection drug users share needles. There is no vaccine for Hepatitis C and it can often be incurable.

Hepatitis symptoms vary in intensity from person to person but commonly include:

  • Fatigue, at times severe enough to make it difficult to get out of bed
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting that gets worse as the day progresses
  • Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice)
  • Darker urine than normal and sand colored feces
  • Loss of smoking desire
  • Dull pain in upper abdomen (Hepatitis A)

For more information on hepatitis, it’s symptoms and how to protect yourself from it, click here.

Other STIs

Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) are infections you can get through sexual contact involving the mouth, penis, vagina or anus. Each year, there are more than 15 million new STD cases in the United States. STDs are more common that most people think. Young people are at particularly high risk.

Most STDs are easily cured if they are caught early. Unfortunately, many people don’t seek treatment because they have no symptoms and they don’t know that they have an infection. Other people have symptoms, but they don’t go to the doctor because they are embarrassed or they don’t realize that their symptoms are the warning signs of a serious infection. If left untreated, some STDs can cause severe health problems or even death. And if you don’t have an STD treated, you are more likely to pass it on to someone else. Talk to your doctor or counselor about any STD concerns you might have.

Click on the links below for more information on specific STDs:

To schedule an HIV test or for more information on Fenway’s HIV Counseling & Testing Services, please call

617.267.0159

Ansin Building

1340 Boylston Street
Boston, MA 02215

Appointments

617.927.6000

Fenway: South End

142 Berkeley Street
Boston, MA 02116

Appointments

617.247.7555

Sidney Borum, Jr. Health Center

75 Kneeland Street
Boston, MA 02111

Appointments

617.457.8140

MyFenway

Patients can use MyFenway.org or MyBorum.org to request prescription refills and referrals online, and communicate over email with some Fenway Health or Sidney Borum, Jr. Health Center providers. Get help creating a MyFenway or MyBorum account here.

Questions? Email myfenway@fenwayhealth.org

Requesting Medical Records

To request a copy of your medical record, please download the medical records release form (PDF) and then fax it to 617.425.5713 or mail it to Medical Records, Fenway Health, Ansin Building, 1340 Boylston Street, Boston, MA 02215.